Jack Welch hand-picks Jeff Immelt to be GE’s next CEO
In 2001, Jeff Immelt, who once ran GE’s Medical Systems business, beat out two of his colleagues for the coveted spot: Robert Nardelli, president and CEO of GE Power Systems, who went on to lead Home Depot (HD) and James McNerney, head of GE Aircraft Engines, who later led 3M (MMM) and then Boeing (BA). As FOX Business reported, Welch is on fire over the state of the company today, while Nardelli told FOX Business he is “heartbroken.”
Financial crisis slams GE, Buffett to the rescue
The financial crisis of 2008 rocked many CEOs, and Jeff Immelt was no exception. GE Capital, the finance arm of the industrial giant, then accounted for nearly 40% of company profits. As investors dumped banking stocks en masse that October, GE was caught in the fray. Immelt struck a deal with billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B), which invested $3 billion in the company, essentially extending it a lifeline. At the time, Buffett also offered his emotional support. “GE is the symbol of American business to the world. I have been a friend and admirer of GE and its leaders for decades. They have strong global brands and businesses with which I am quite familiar. I am confident that GE will continue to be successful in the years to come,” said Buffett in a statement.
CEO Immelt moves to diversify the conglomerate
During his 16-year tenure as CEO, Immelt diversified the industrial company. For example, GE whittled down its finance arm, GE Capital, to become a simpler enterprise. It also sold its appliance unit to Chinese manufacturer Haier for $5.6 billion. At the same time Immelt was pushing into areas such as the ‘Internet of Things’ and he also took a stake in oil giant Baker Hughes (BHI), as oil prices stagnated. His strategy irked longtime investors who feared GE was becoming too complicated. Even after Immelt’s resignation in June 2017, the strategy continues to dog the company. “We see no quick fix to GE’s problems as years of financial engineering, complex reporting and mis-aligned incentives are coming to bear,” wrote Goldman Sachs (GS) analyst Joe Ritchie in October 2017.
GE insider John Flannery named CEO
GE insider John Flannery, who led a turnaround at GE Healthcare, became the company’s 11th CEO following the resignation of Jeff Immelt in June 2017. He officially took the helm that August. Despite the familial changing of the guard, Flannery was inheriting a basket of issues, including whether or not the company’s generous dividend could be perserved. On the July earnings call, Immelt’s last, CFO Jeff Bornstein addressed the elephant in the room. “John and I are reviewing our capital allocation plan for the year. Dividend remains our priority,” he said. Investors were skeptical — and rightfully so — as the dividend got slashed that fall by 50%.
GE slashes dividend, crushes investor base
In efforts to conserve capital, GE cut its dividend in half last November, an upshot of a broad review of the company under new CEO John Flannery. At the company’s investor day, Flannery promised to “Simplify + concentrate on GE of the future” as outlined in the company presentation.
GE’s Dividend Done…
Still, investors signaled they won’t wait around. Once coined the stock for widows and orphans, firms such as Morgan Stanley (MS) began removing GE from investment portfolios. GE also came under fire for having the second-largest corporate board among S&P 500 components, as reported by FOX Business.