Genius, the inventor Thomas Edison once said, is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. He might have added: In business, it’s also almost 100% commercialization.
That’s a final lesson for General Electric Co, the industrial conglomerate Edison helped found that’s being split into three after nearly 130 years — as well as for Toshiba Corp, once effectively GE’s Japanese unit and now also considering a division into three separate businesses.
GE had always liked to think of itself as a hotbed of research and development in the model of Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory. From the start, though, the company drew as much from the financial brilliance of its co-founder, John Pierpont Morgan, as from Edison’s engineering prowess. A failure to keep up with how equity and debt markets changed in the 21st century is at least as important an element in its downfall as industrial missteps.