School for CFOs

Unlike training programs at many companies, GE's Financial Management Program links to other programs that extend into upper-level finance management.

Senior-management support starts at the top. Chairman Welch champions a corporate “learning culture,” and tells shareholders that GE “would never knowingly hire someone who could not adopt that behavior.” CFO Keith Sherin, who joined GE in 1981 and was an FMP, advises his direct reports to spend at least half of their time mentoring junior staff.

For his part, NBC chief financial officer Mark Begor–a 1982 FMP–lauds the “creativity, fresh thinking, and new ideas” that newcomers like Vassallo contribute, and calls FMP “a significant enhancement” to his own 400-person finance department. Indeed, he handpicks all of NBC’s 16 or so future FMPs from college campuses each year. “I want to make sure we get the cream of the crop,” he says.

Jack Versus Mike

In a concurrent 12-week classroom component, FMP also draws on finance managers to link finance basics and business acumen. Lutes, in his seventh year of teaching, loves case studies. “I might ask my class why Michael Armstrong is breaking AT&T into four divisions,” he says. Then, for perspective, he’ll “look at what Jack Welch has done with over 30 business units.”

In addition to the executive support, there are monetary incentives to encourage FMPs to swim rather than sink. Salaries, for example, are recalculated after every assignment, based on work performance and classwork grades. Ultimately, more than 70 percent of the CFOs of GE’s top 20 businesses, and some unit CEOs, are former FMPs.

Now on the corporate Audit Staff, Vassallo says she hopes eventually to find “a leadership position” in either finance or operations. FMP “wasn’t just finance,” she says. “It addressed the question, ‘How can we bring operations people into this game?’”

The teachers learn lessons, too. “There’s real fulfillment in knowing I helped develop people who will fill jobs I’ve had,” says Lutes. “Or even, maybe, my current one.”

Some Notable Alums

FMP GRADS YEARS AT GE WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Lawrence Bossidy 1957- 1991 Retired; former AlliedSignal CEO
Robert Brust 1965- 1996 Eastman Kodak, CFO
Dennis Carey 1969- 1994 Home Depot, CFO
Dennis Dammerman 1967- present GE, vice chairman, former CFO
Chris A. Davis 1976- 1993 ONI Systems, CFO
Arthur Fatum 1974- 1990

CNET Networks, president of international media, former CFO

Andrew Hyde 1979- 1994 Salesforce.com, CFO
James Loree 1980- 1999 The Stanley Works, CFO
George Scimone 1968- 1995 Reader’s Digest Association, CFO
Robert Swan 1985- 1999 Webvan Group, CFO and COO

Source: Company spokespeople

GE Finance Training: The Trail to the Top

Financial Management Program (FMP)
Annually, 350 recent college grads enter the two-year program and get six-month-long assignments. Courses taught by senior GE finance members supplement on-the-job training. Corporate Audit Staff (CAS) Stars from FMP and programs in other departments are on four-month rotations for up to five years. Trainee teams assess operations and recommend improvement. The program is supplemented by 15-20 days of formal training per year.

Corporate Audit Staff (CAS)
Stars from FMP and programs in other departments are on four-month rotations for up to five years. Trainee teams assess operations and recommend improvement. The program is supplemented by 15-20 days of formal training per year.

Experienced Financial Leadership Program (EFLP)
This program is for midlevel employees with leadership potential, but not CAS grads. Two years of finance classes are taught by university professors in tandem with regular work assignments plus short-term projects in other businesses. The focus is on decision-making, presentation, and mentoring skills.

Sources: General Electric, press reports

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