What Immelt’s Athenahealth Chair Appointment Really Means

Former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt was unanimously appointed chairman of online health tech platform Athenahealth this week, but for the company, the move is far beyond a typical board appointment.

“It actively signals to the market the company has the right team and business model to make it a powerful force in digital healthcare,” professor of leadership at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management Jeff Cunningham told Corporate Board Member. “Although Immelt is technically independent, he will likely take on an active role as he is one of the most experienced executives from his days running GE Healthcare.”

The company, led by CEO Jonathan Bush (the nephew of President George H.W. Bush), has been under pressure from billionaire investor Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp. to shake things up in response to slow sales growth.

“Jeff shares our vision for more connected, efficient, and human-centered healthcare; and like us, believes a platform-oriented business and technology strategy is fundamental to executing against that vision,” Bush said in a statement announcing Immelt’s appointment. “His appointment as chairman is one of many important steps the company has taken over the past year to enhance the board and management team, as well as to strengthen and focus our operational and go-to-market strategy.”

And while this may be the first post-GE position of note for Immelt, it isn’t likely to be the last, as other organizations will likely continue to approach him with leadership opportunities inside and out of the boardroom.

“We should expect to see more announcements like this in the coming months as Immelt weighs his opportunities to share his experience and wisdom with other organizations, after withdrawing abruptly from the Uber CEO competition,” Cunningham says.