If President Barack Obama had announced this week that he was appointing Japan’s Takanobu Ito, president and CEO of Honda, to head his new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, one can imagine the shock wave that would go through the American body politic. A foreigner!–and one from one of America’s major competitors–to head a White House advisory panel on jobs and competitiveness?
And yet, at least the president could argue that Ito represents a company that earns the bulk of its revenues from its operations in the US.
But what are we to make of the actual announcement, that the president has named Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE Corp., to chair the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness?
Immelt heads a company that has for years topped the list of transnational corporations as ranked by the size of their foreign asset holdings. More significantly, GE is a company that for years has also received more of its revenues and its profits from abroad than from its US operations (a record 60% in 2009), that has far more of its 304,000 employees overseas than in the US, and that has more assets abroad than at “home,” where its headquarters offices are located.
Even those domestic revenues and earnings are less than they might appear, in terms of jobs at least, since they are primarily from the company’s financial subsidiaries, while most of the revenues and earnings from abroad are from its manufacturing operations.
What this means is that in very real terms, GE is not an American company. It is a foreign company that happens to be headquartered in the US, and that happens to have a chairman/CEO who was born in the US, and holds a US passport.