Beth Comstock Speaker & Booking Information

Vice Chair of Business Innovations at GE
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Years ago, when Beth Comstock was a single mother working at NBC, she didn't hang a picture of her daughter in her office because she didn't want anyone to think she had any obligation more pressing than her job. "My children are so much a part of me that I was denying myself," says the 42-year-old corporate VP-chief marketing officer of GE.

Comstock is GE's face to the world and representative of its new post-Jack-Welch culture. "My job is to connect with people," she says. Reporting to GE chairman-CEO Jeffrey Immelt (who also started out in marketing), Comstock, as corporate VP-communications, oversees integrated communications. And as its marketing mainstay she oversees a new corporate commercial leadership that is revitalizing GE's marketing and sales efforts.

Comstock has also managed to change the corporate culture some, since becoming a GE officer in 1998. Photos of her husband of 15 years, an online marketer, and two daughters, an 18-year old freshman at the University of San Francisco and 12-year-old middle-schooler adorn her office. "People appreciate seeing other aspects of your life," she says. Now GE holds staffers accountable for keeping women engaged "and when female engineers return from maternity or motherhood leave we make them heroes to remind everyone that they too can do this. I love it when GE guys say they're not moving, that their kids have to finish high school where they are," she adds.

Comstock has also changed GE's image, leading the launch of its new corporate ad campaign. "Imagination at work," replaced the long running "We bring good things to life." The ads promote GE Aircraft Engines and GE Medical Systems among other lesser-known industries such as energy, automotive, aviation, retail and transportation. (There are 11, each with its own marketing team, and all of which she leads.) "Two years of research convinced us we didn't want to be known for just appliances and lighting," said Comstock.

That range of industries reporting to her hints at the scope and variety of her job""and the fact that no day is typical. "I fasten my seatbelt every morning, and take off on a wild ride," she says. Often that's quite literal: Comstock travels four to five times a month, (including three to four trips each year to Europe and two to Asia where China is a key market for GE) visiting various GE customers, marketing agencies, teams and business locations around the world. Partly she's there as a sponge: soaking up best practices in one business to apply them to another and learning new ideas. She also connects teams for specific projects, brainstorms new ideas with teams, and immerses herself in research, writing and trend studying to make sure GE stays on top of market developments. Most mornings she awakes at 5 AM and thinks about working out. Perhaps twice a week she follows through. When she's home she is out the door by 6:30AM heading to either her nearby Fairfield county office or Manhattan.

Comstock grew up in Winchester, Virginia, the daughter of a dentist turned art historian, and elementary school teacher. "My dad's post retirement passion convinced me you can have a second act," she says. Comstock started out at the College of William and Mary in Virginia with plans for medical school or to be a science journalist, and graduated from there with a degree in biology.

Early in her career she was on camera covering the Virginia State Legislature for a Richmond-based news service. "But I wasn't as good as I'd hoped to be," she admits. That led to the executive suite and a succession of communications positions at CBS Entertainment, Turner Broadcasting and ultimately NBC.

When Comstock was 27, divorced and with a three-year old daughter (helped by parents who lived nearby), NBC moved her from its Washington bureau where she was doing publicity, to corporate headquarters in New York. She knew no one here.

She set about making their acquaintance. In 1993 she was named VP of NBC News communications""(and the face that told the world that Richard Jewell, the security guard who was the focus of the investigation into the Olympic bombing before he was cleared by the government, reached a settlement from NBC) and in 1996, SVP. "There have been so many transitions in my work life I feel like I've jumped on and off a lazy Susan," she says.

Constantly being under the microscope at NBC News toughened her for the demands of GE""including Jack Welch's five-year-long scrutinized succession drama. So did her boss, NBC's CEO Bob Wright. At the network where she oversaw licensing and merchandising, Wright turned down her proposal to launch an NBC merchandising store twice, forcing her to return each time with better "kick ass" plans, and testing her passion and commitment to the project.

Passion is an understated tool because it drives hard work, says Comstock. "I am passionate about learning and so I push myself to seek out new opportunities and take risks."

Sometimes that means making mistakes. In Comstock's case it has meant trying too hard to make something perfect, or going at something alone so as not to burden other people. "But that's lonely and I've learned that people want to be part of things." Happily she has also learned not to be so hard on herself when she fails, "to draw on humor, lessons learned and then keep moving."

Comstock savors "the endless opportunity to learn and be challenged and grow into new areas" that GE affords, along with the company's development, training and education programs. She also loves the global dimension of the job, and being able to work with a variety of international people and places. But while the depth and breadth of GE is exciting, it can also be exhausting. "I miss finding time to be thoughtful and reflective," she says. You have to lead the job and not let it carry you. It's a battle, but you have to force yourself to take time to focus. It's the only way to be effective."

Comstock is proud of her family but admits that if she weren't working "I'd be crazy. My kids don't know how lucky they are not to have a stay-at-home mom."

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