The Top 25: Sue Siegel, GE Ventures

Sue Siegel is chief innovation officer (CIO) at industrial conglomerate General Electric (GE) and chief executive of its corporate venturing unit, GE Ventures, with long-term colleague Marianne Wu as president of GE Ventures.

Siegel joined the company’s healthtech scheme Healthymagination initially in 2012, ascending to CEO of GE Ventures in 2013 to help the unit evolve from predecessor GE Capital, before eventually being promoted to CIO at its parent in 2017.

Ahead of her expected retirement from GE this summer for a portfolio career, Siegel reports directly to Larry Culp, GE’s chairman and CEO since October, and her role as CIO includes being a member of the company’s capital allocation and portfolio management governance and helping it grow, incubate and accelerate horizontal, adjacent and transformational businesses.

However, financial challenges at GE, including an $11bn charge, had seen liquidity concerns and shares down by 65% in the past two years amid a break-up of the company and reports indicate it could spin out GE Ventures into a separate entity, according to a report in MedCity News. Details are still being worked out, but one possibility is that Mohr Davidow Ventures would take over the unit.

Siegel herself joined GE from venture capital firm Mohr Davidow Ventures along with partners Marianne Wu and Alex De Winter, selected respectively as GCV’s Rising Stars in 2017 and 2019.

Siegel’s background was in healthcare investing for Mohr Davidow from 2007 and a career in the industry stretching back 30 years to 1985 at chemicals company DuPont and Bio-Rad Laboratories, then later as president of both Affymetrix and Amersham – acquired by GE – and before that as a student in Boston and Puerto Rico.

“The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today,” she said when she co-chaired the third annual Global Corporate Venturing and Innovation (GCVI) Summit in 2018.

“Change is going so fast,” she added. “If you think of it, today is as slow as it is going to get; in the future, you will see the current time as slow, which means things are only going to accelerate – which is a scary perspective. We already feel how tumultuous everything is, and how we struggle to keep up with all the technologies. And yet things are only going to get faster.

“What this means from a CVC point of view, is that we cannot get complacent. We need to continue challenging ourselves.”

At this year’s event, where Siegel became chairwoman emeritus, she said that corporate venturers “are ambassadors that serve as the bridge between the entrepreneurial ecosystem – entrepreneurs and venture capitalists – and our corporate entities, which sometimes view them as a threat” and while challenges may lie ahead, she declared that “corporate venturing is a discipline that is here to stay”.

Siegel also took the opportunity to implore the audience – particularly men – to support diversity and ask themselves what they had done to increase it, noting that “our strength lies in our diversity”.

GE Ventures’ five main units have been equity investing, which invests in and partners startups, GE Licensing, New Business Creation, Healthymagination and Catalyst. Under Siegel, GE Ventures has become the primary unit backing earlier-stage entrepreneurs.

Siegel also emphasised the importance of collaboration among players in the field. “Corporates understand that innovation is broad and diverse and that we cannot do it alone. Partnerships are key and GE welcomes partners in the growth journey.”

Siegel was recognised in Fortune’s list of 34 Leaders Who Are Changing Healthcare and was named one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women by the California Diversity Council. In January this year, she joined genetic technology provider Illumina’s board of directors.

Outside of co-chairing the GCVI Summit 2018, her leadership positions at conferences have been focused on healthcare, including Harvard Partners’ Healthcare Innovation Advisory Board, the Scientific Advisory Board of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Stanford Medicine Board of Fellows, University of California’s Innovation Council and USC’s Schaeffer Centre for Health Policy and Marshall School of Business Board of Leaders.