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I’d heard that the CEO of General Electric, Jeff Immelt, came to the Butte, Montana Economic Summit put on by Montana Senator Max Baucus with two giant corporate jets, one of which was an extra, "just in case".

Over ten years under Immelt’s leadership, GE, a publicly traded company that must answer to millions of average-joe shareholders, has returned a lame 1% profit a year.   And while GE did build a call center in Billings a number of years ago that employs some Montana citizens, they supposedly teased the state out of many millions of dollars of subsidies and tax breaks before agreeing to build it.

So I contacted a person on the ground at the Butte airport he confirmed this rumor to me.

But before blogging it, I figured I should write to GE and see what the deal was, and maybe get a comment.  Peter O’Toole, spokesperson for Immelt, snarkily...

...tried to deflect my question to him, without ever really answering it.  Instead, he gave me the old “Mr. Immelt oversees 300,000 employees and his use of corporate jets is governed by security.”  I pushed some more, and he tried to act outraged by the assertion, but you could tell he still wasn’t really addressing it, but rather he was parsing words to try to avoid taking it on directly.  So at that point, I asked him directly: how many planes did GE bring to Butte? One, or two? It’s a simple question.  

This diary is cross posted at The Montana Cowgirl Blogfor those who want to communicate directly with Montanans on this issue.

I got no reply, and he still hasn’t responded.

So O’Toole’s nonsense just raised a flag, I’d say. And so if it is true that GE brought two jets to Butte, I guess the only suckers are the shareholders.   And, as always, if there is an explanation for all of this then I welcome Mr. Immelt to log on to Montana Cowgirl and clear up the matter, given that his able spokesperson did as much as he could to confuse it.

I have posted my entire exchange with Mr. O’Toole below.

Me:  I am the editor of a political blog, and I am writing to see if GE or Mr. Immelt would like to comment on the fact that GE sent two private jets to Montana with Mr. Immelt, one of which was a spare jet in case Mr. Immelt’s main jet experienced a problem.

The “GE Corporate Feedback Team”:

Thank you for your inquiry on ge.com .

We suggest you communicate directly with GE’s Executive Director of Communications & Public Relations with regard to your query as below.

Peter O’Toole
GE Corporate, Director Executive Communications
Public Relations

Work (phone number removed)
Email (email address removed) Subject: E-mail for Peter O’Toole

Sincerely,

The GE Corporate Feedback Team

I then forwarded my question to Mr. Peter O’Toole.  Here is his response.

Hello. Mr. Immelt manages 150,000 American workers, 300,000 workers worldwide, and the world’s most widely-held security. The GE board of directors thus requires that Mr. Immelt use corporate aircraft for safety and security purposes.

As for your other “fact[s]“…they aren’t.

Thanks,

Peter O’Toole
Director, Executive Communications
GE

Me:    Hi,  Several sources who were at the jet center and spoke to Mr. Immelt’s pilot says that there was a Global Express jet, which carried Mr. Immelt, and a Falcon jet, that followed Mr. Immelt’s plane in case it experienced a mechanical problem, and that these two jets came to Butte and then went on to Las Vegas.  If I understand your cryptic and semi-responsive email, are you saying that Mr. Immelt does in fact get trailed by a second jet?  Thank you.

Peter O’Toole, Director, Executive Communications, GE:

No. I’m not saying that. For security purposes, all I can tell you is that the board requires Mr. Immelt to travel via corporate aircraft and that your source alleging some sort of “chase plane” scenario is wrong.

Peter

Peter O’Toole

Director, Executive Communications

GE

Me: You’re not saying what? Were there two jets in Butte or one?

Peter O’Toole, Director, Executive Communications, GE:

You asked does Mr. Immelt “get trailed by a second jet?” My answer was, and is, “no.” The facts won’t change no matter how many times you ask.

Thanks for letting me clarify for your readers.

Peter O’Toole

Originally posted to Montana Cowgirl on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 06:16 PM PDT.

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