Immelt attended Finneytown High School; he played football in college and was an offensive tackle. He earned an A.B. in Applied Mathematics and Economics cum laude from Dartmouth College graduating with the class of 1978; he was President of his fraternity, Phi Delta Alpha, and currently serves on the Dartmouth board of trustees.
Immelt has been with GE since 1982, when he graduated from Harvard with his MBA. He held a number of increasingly senior positions in GE's plastics, appliances, and Health care businesses. He became a GE officer in 1989, joined the GE Capital board in 1997 and took on the leadership of GE Health care before being named CEO.
After becoming chairman of GE, Immelt delivered his first university address to the 2001 graduating class of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, of which he is an alumnus, as their Investiture Speaker. He gave the college commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Dartmouth, in June 2004.
On February 26, 2002, shortly after becoming GE's Chairman and CEO, Immelt gave a Town Hall speech at Georgia Institute of Technology as a guest of their President. In the years that followed, Immelt gave the commencement address at Northeastern University (2006) and received the honorary Doctorate of Business Administration. He returned to Georgia Tech in the spring of 2007 as their commencement speaker. He was commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame on May 20, 2007, where he was awarded the honorary Doctor of Laws. He was commencement speaker at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute on May 17, 2008 and received an honorary degree.
Barron's has named Immelt one of the "World's Best CEOs" three times. He is a member of The American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The Financial Times named him "Man of the Year" in 2003. Immelt was named to Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2009.
Immelt served as Chairman of The Business Council, a nonpartisan organization, in 2005 and 2006. It is notable that two other GE CEOs, Reginald Jones and Jack Welch, also served in this capacity.
Immelt was named a member of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2006. He resigned the board position in 2011.
Immelt's compensation has fluctuated significantly. As CEO of General Electric in 2007, Immelt earned a total compensation of $14,209,267. In 2008, he earned a total compensation of $5,717,469. In 2009, Immelt earned a total compensation of $5,487,155. In 2010, Immelt's compensation nearly doubled to $15.2 million. Immelt had a total five year compensation of $53.82 million through 2011, an income which ranked sixth among executives employed by US-based conglomerates. Some components of his total compensation package over the years have been newsworthy. In some years he was granted stock options at $0, and in other years he was paid no bonus.In 2014 his compensation totalled $18.8 million, a decrease from his 2013 compensation of $25.8 million. That 2013 compensation had risen 20% over his 2012 compensation of $20.6 million.
The GE Foundation has been extolled as a leader in corporate charitable giving since Immelt became GE CEO, with special attention to its efforts to support schools in the US, over and above its university activities, and Health care in poor countries. Under Immelt, GE frequently appears in lists of notably charitable US corporations; for Example, GE was pictured No. 8 in 2008 with charitable disbursements of $161.5 million in a ranking published by Forbes.
In February 2009, in the early days of the Obama administration, Immelt was appointed as a member to the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board to provide the President and his administration with advice and counsel in fixing America's economic downturn. When President Obama chose to put Jeffrey Immelt at the head of the Economic Advisory Board, he felt that Immelt had attributions in knowing what would help the global economy. Obama has reported that Immelt has emerged as one of his top economic advisors in regards to trying to rebuild America's economy.
Immelt served as commencement speaker at Michigan State University's 2 pm ceremony on December 11, 2010, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of Business. He was the commencement speaker on May 23, 2010, at Hamilton College, which awarded him its honorary Doctor of Laws, and on May 24, 2010, at Boston College, where he was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Business Administration. He addressed the undergraduate class of 2011 of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on May 23, 2011, and received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree despite controversy at the school over GE's corporate tax strategies. In May 2013, he delivered the commencement address at the University of Connecticut Graduate School, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. In 2015 he delivered the commencement address at Siena College where he was also awarded the honorary Doctor of Humanities.
On January 21, 2011, President Obama announced Immelt's appointment as chairman of his outside panel of economic advisers, succeeding former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. The New York Times reported that Obama's appointment of Immelt was "another strong signal that he intends to make the White House more business-friendly." The council met a total of four times, with its final meeting on January 17, 2012. In 2013, the authorization for the council was not renewed, causing the council to be permanently shut down.
During the US Presidential elections in 2012, GE came under attack for not paying US federal taxes while receiving substantial federal tax benefits. While the tax attacks created the impression that GE paid no taxes, its worldwide tax expense was over $3 billion, with most of the taxes paid in foreign jurisdictions. GE is reported to have paid no federal US taxes in 2010.
Immelt was awarded the 2014 American Football Coaches Association Tuss McLaughry Award, given to a distinguished American (or Americans) for the highest distinction in Service to others. In accepting the award, he said "I am a product of football and I owe a great debt of gratitude to that system. "What I learned playing football enters my life every day."
In 2016, Immelt spoke at the commencement for Clemson University's College of Arts, Architecture, and Humanities as well as the College of Engineering and Science. Clemson awarded Immelt with an honorary doctorate and Immelt spoke of how GE hired many Clemson alumni at their gas turbine factory in Greenville, South Carolina.
On June 12, 2017, GE announced that Immelt would retire as CEO and would be replaced by John L. Flannery. Immelt officially stepped down in October, 2017.
On February 7, 2018, Immelt became the chairperson at Athenahealth, replacing Athenahealth's co-founder, Jonathan Bush, who remains on as CEO. Also in February, 2018, two weeks after the Athenahealth announcement, Immelt joined the board of Directors of Radiology Partners.