ORLANDO, FLA. –
As product general manager for GE
Appliances, Brett BeGole is responsible for the company’s
kitchen and laundry lines, and has a major say in how
its $1 billion investment in majap R&D is spent.
TWICE caught up with BeGole on his first anniversary
as product chief during
the Nationwide Marketing
Group’s spring meeting
here last month.
you for this job?
I’ve been with
GE for 22 years in various
and product management
roles, including transportation,
lighting and sourcing.
Most recently I led
GE’s global locomotive
you to appliances?
I followed the
money. I saw a major investment
in GE’s appliance
business – $1 billion – and
a major investment in the
U.S. We’ve already created 400 new jobs here and will
have 1,000 new positions by 2014.
For years manufacturers have pushed production
offshore to lower costs. How can you afford to bring
We’ve changed the way we approach manufacturing
and design, something we call lean technology.
Both disciplines are now in the same location, and we also
bring in assembly workers to help design the production
lines and assemble pre-pilot and pilot programs. It helps
us find any issues well in advance and results in higher
We still source some
products overseas, but
global costs have gone
up and more components
are being made and assembled
here. We brought
back water heaters, bottom
freezers, and are bringing
back some front-load
washer capacity. With lean
technology we can do this
cost effectively, and we’re
going to back that up with
Campbell as president/
CEO of GE Appliances
in January. How does his
aviation background suit
his new role, and what
changes should we expect
on his watch?
Jim started the reinvestment in appliances
and U.S. production, and Chip will help us with the execution.
He’ll show us how to increase cycle times, and make
the operation run faster. The changes will be seamless to
the customer. He has managed large investments for GE,
such as the development of the Boeing 787,
and while there was a bit of a learning curve,
he was out there visiting with retailers on day
GE had been looking to divest its
appliance business. What changed?
We decided 15 months ago to
keep it. The company’s focus had been on
gas turbines and wind technology, and appliances
didn’t get any investment. But now we
realize that technology can be a competitive
Our latest bottom freezer for GE
and GE Profile. It has an in-the-door water
filter that removes pharmaceuticals like beta
blockers, anti-depressants, pain relievers
and oral contraceptives from drinking water,
and the dispenser has an auto-fill feature that
senses the size of the container and fills it
with the precise amount of water automatically.
It hits in May.
Much had been made in the industry
about smart-grid enabled appliances,
but interest has seemingly waned.
Our demand-side management
products are now in four demo communities,
and we’re ready whenever the utilities are.
But we also see energy-saving opportunities
in more efficient appliances and the connected
home. Our GeoSpring hybrid water
heater can save you $320 a year in energy
costs, and if you’re traveling and forget to
turn your hot water heater off you can do so
remotely by cell phone.
We understand that GE will be
implementing another price increase following
the industrywide cost hikes that went
into effect Jan. 1.
Yes, on May 1. Today’s products
are significantly better than they were in the
past at the same price point. But material
costs continue to go up, the cost of fuel is
going up, and we need to cover that. We
want to make sure we can be profitable and
can continue to fund R&D.
Will the appliance industry continue
to follow consumer electronics down a
I can’t speak for the industry, but
at GE we try to take a very disciplined approach.
We have a defined time window for
promotions – six defined holidays – and we
think this helps the retailer and the consumer.
What is GE’s policy on e-tail distribution?
Brick-and-mortar drives our
brands and products. We like our brick-andmortar
distribution channels — it’s what does
best for our products, and we haven’t sold to
Amazon. We see the Internet as a blend, a
marriage, and it will continue to be important
as a way for the customer to get educated
about our products.
Do you foresee a turnaround in
the appliance industry this year?
The industry was down 5 percent
in 2011. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we
are starting to come out of this. Our GE Café
brand has been hugely successful, as have our
bottom mount freezers with in-door filters and
LED lighting. If the downturn had been limited
to the appliance industry we may have limited
our investment, but as it is we’re refreshing the
lines and bringing out new ones.