Imagination at work: GE shares its process for creating bright ideas with customers

GE, whose corporate mantra is “Imagination at Work,” has given members of the Manufactured Housing Institute a lesson in developing innovative business processes.

By David McCarthy, contributing editor November 28, 2007

Successful homebuilders typically have strong working relationships with lending institutions. But some members of the national trade group for the manufactured housing industry might not be in business today if not for that organization’s collaboration with GE Capital Solutions .
It wasn’t just financial assistance that GE lent the homebuilders. GE, whose corporate mantra is “Imagination at Work,” gave the builders a lesson in developing innovative business processes.
“We were struggling with a precipitous drop in business volume resulting from a number of factors,” says Gail Cardwell, president and CEO of the 400-plus member trade group known as the Manufactured Housing Institute —or MHI.
Cardwell says the issues MHI members needed to address included:

In May 2007, an executive with GE Capital Solutions, a longtime source of financing for the industry, approached MHI leadership about a program that GE uses to help its customers improve their business fortunes. Through this seven-year-old program called At the Customer for the Customer (ACFC), GE shares its own successful business principles and methodologies with customers free of charge.
“We’ll share what’s worked well with GE and help make it fit the customer’s reality,” says Karen Dougherty, GE Capital Solutions ACFC Leader. “We’re not trying to make our customers [into] mini-GEs.”
Members of the GE Capital Solutions ACFC team visited MHI’s New York campus, where GE staff coached MHI’s trainers. According to Cardwell, the ACFC team encouraged various MHI task forces to push the entire industry forward by addressing challenges head-on, identifying roadblocks to improvement, and then instituting the necessary changes to overcome those roadblocks.
“We wanted the members to take ownership of these initiatives—draw up problem statements, locate problem areas, and develop business plans,” Cardwell says.
Among other things, Cardwell says, the ACFC team caused an MHI home-finance task force to seek additional funding sources. That led the group toindustry’s customer base.