It may not be a British company, but the General Electric Company -- better known as GE -- is critical to the British economy. The UK is the second largest employee base for GE after the US. In the Mayfair office of corporate CIO Neil Dyke is a pair of maps that show the scope of his role -- one is of Africa and the other of the UK, the latter showing GE's sites in places such as Truro in Cornwall, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland and of course the London HQ.
"There are 20,000 GE employees in the UK," Dyke says. "There are two ways of looking at a country from within GE: as destination sales and as an operating centre. In the UK we have several global headquarters managing destination sales across the world."
GE has eight business units and all eight have a presence in the UK; for two of them, the UK is the global headquarters. The eight units are: Capital, Aviation, Healthcare, Home and Business, Oil and Gas, Power and Water, Energy Management, and Transportation.
In the UK the 11 aviation manufacturing sites employ 5000 people. GE Healthcare has its global headquarters in Buckinghamshire, while the transportation business makes signal systems for railways here. GE Capital also has its EMEA headquarters in the UK with 3,000 employees, and the Energy Infrastructure businesses produces technology for all parts of the energy sector whether oil, gas, nuclear, coal, wind or renewable.
On its website GE says that since 2002 it has invested £10 billion into the UK, mostly through acquisitions. This means the map in Dyke's office features 45 locations, 25 of which are manufacturing operations, in a country that some claim doesn't make anything anymore.
A singular challenge
Dyke's role is an example of the complexity of the GE business. The CIO has to deliver singularity in a environment of multiplicity.
"There is no one GE. We are highly regulated in the banking sector, highly regulated in the healthcare sector and heavily regulated in the aviation business and again in oil and gas," he says indicating the intricacy that surrounds each of these operations.
Strangely, Dyke says GE doesn't have good brand awareness in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), the regions he has a remit for as CIO. This is a challenge for a company that he says thrives on talent recruitment to ensure it has the best engineers, technologists, management and bankers in the business.
Some of this may be because what GE does is to add the really clever but unseen critical element in a business process -- a bit like being a CIO. GE is not a rival to BP or Shell in the oil and gas business, rather its role is critical in creating and making "rotating machinery that helps get the oil and gas out of the ground," Dyke explains. Transferring gas down pipelines also requires specialist machinery as the gas needs a form of locomotion to flow. In the case of the Alberta oil sands operations that have attracted great controversy in Canada, the technology to extract oil from sand is another example of a GE development.
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