Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Electrolux buy of GE Appliance Division brings back HP LaserJet memories

The news about the acquisition of GE's venerable home appliance division by Sweden's Electrolux brought back some great memories for me.

It was 1992, as part of the HP LaserJet management team, that I was privileged enough to be part of a pair of day-long meetings with GE's Home Appliance Product Management team. It was a "cultural exchange" where someone (not me, and I can't remember who) came up with the brilliant idea (and more important, made the idea happen) to get the teams together to exchange best practices, with the safety of knowing we were in no way competitors, allowing the individuals on each team to speak more freely.

The beauty of the exchange was that though the products we managed seemed (and were) very different, GE and HP both were then (and still are) known for a rigorous, analytical approach to marketing and product management. It was a "home and home" series (as we would say in today's sports world), with the GE team visiting Boise (home base, then and now, for the LaserJet business), and then our HP group visiting Louisville (likewise, headquarters for GE Appliances).

Even though it's coming up on 23 years in the past, I clearly remember learning two things from the meetings (in addition to being impressed with the Louisville factory tour). One was the sensitivity the GE team was feeling towards the green/recycling trends which were growing, heading our way from Europe. This included the idea that the originating vendor could be responsible for "product take back" from customers buying new appliances.

The other "aha" I remember well was the GE team's admission that they as individuals were more focused, that is MUCH more focused, on appliances, both their own and those of the competition, as compared to the general public. They, and the interest level they felt for their own household appliances, and even those of friends and family, were outliers - the customers they were serving generally had a much lower level of passion for their appliances, and the simplicity of GE's sales appeals was paramount. In other words, don't expect the customers out there to do "deep dives" on the speeds and feeds of their new washers, dryers, and refrigerators.

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