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What happened to General Electric? Somewhere along the road over the past decade, one of the oldest and biggest corporate giants in the US lost its way. GE is a titan of American industry and was for years considered a benchmark for smart business strategy and management excellence. Traditionally it was one of the country's most flexible conglomerates, too, having dabbled in numerous very different sectors over its long history. For several years, it was among the foremost US mediaowners through its NBC television network and the Universal Pictures movie studio. This division was sold to cable operator Comcast. For decades, GE was one of the world's biggest non-bank financial services providers, but quit this sector too in 2015. The consumer finance operations in North America were split out as Synchrony Financial, and other assets sold off to more traditional lenders including Wells Fargo. For almost a century, GE was one of America's biggest home appliances manufacturers; this business too was divested. Yet the underlying strategy of focusing on industrial engineering and technology has hit several serious speedbumps. A slump in performance led to the removal of 16-year CEO Jeff Immelt in 2017 as well as much of his senior management team. New CEO John Flannery announced plans to dispose of GE's operations in transportation, lighting and oil & gas as well, but new problems in the core power generation division resulted in his removal too after little over a year in his role. Larry Culp became GE's third CEO in two years at the end of 2018. That year the group reported revenues of $121.6bn. A $22bn impairment charge resulted in a net loss of $22.4bn, the group's third deficit in four years. Aviation - primarily jet engines and related technology - is GE's biggest and most profitable operating division. Healthcare is also a big profit stream; the group is a global leader in diagnostic imaging machines and operating theatre equipment; but it agreed to sell its BioPharma division to Danaher in 2019. Energy generation and management in all its forms is still GE's underlying core business, occupying three other divisions which together account for half of total revenues.

Capsule checked 7th February 2019

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Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Daily Update 25th Feb 2019: General Electric's new CEO Larry Culp kicked off his own carve-up of the group with a deal to sell its BioPharma division to - conveniently - his former employer Danaher for $21.4bn, around seven times annual sales. The business being sold manufactures lab equipment and instrumentation used in the development of pharmaceutical products. It's one of GE's fastest-growing businesses but is considered non-core. The group will use the cash to pay down debt; and will make a decision later this year whether or not to proceed with a planned spin-off of the whole healthcare division. That may now be cancelled or postponed.

Adbrands Weekly Update 4th Oct 2018: There was a significantly less dignified transition at troubled industrial giant GE. John Flannery was ousted as chairman & CEO after just a little over a year in that role. Flannery has led a wholesale makeover of the ailing business icon, marketing several divisions for sale, including healthcare and transportation. However, serious problems continue to plague its power generation business, which is to be one of the core units in the slimmed-down group. Sales of electricity turbines are far below target, causing revenues and profits to plunge in the latest quarterly results, and the group said it will take an impairment charge of as much as $23bn against that business in the final quarter. In the 14 months under Flannery's leadership, GE's stock has fallen by two-thirds, and is now at its lowest level since the 2008 financial crisis. The board decided that Flannery is not the man to repair GE's woes, and has replaced him with Larry Culp, a current GE board director and former CEO of industrial conglomerate Danaher.

Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Jun 2018: In the latest dismantling of its once-substantial industrial footprint, General Electric announced plans to divest two further divisions, and focus its activities in just three areas of power, aviation and renewable energy. It had already demerged its oil and gas operations into oil-services company Baker Hughes in return for a majority shareholding in that business. Those shares will now be sold. Also on the block is the group's $19.1bn healthcare equipment business. GE will float around 20% of that business as a separate company with a view to spinning off the remaining shares to investors at a later date. The group will also pare back its central administrative and research business. Healthcare and oil & gas accounted for around a third of GE's revenues last year. The group has already divested its transportation division this year, and is currently negotiating the sale of its lighting business. Over the last ten years it also divested the substantial NBC Universal media division, its mammoth financial services arm and its household appliances operations.

Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Jun 2018: After more than a century as one of America's most admired companies, and for the several years in the early 2000s the single biggest by value, General Electric will be ejected from the Dow Jones Industrial Average next week and replaced by Walgreens Boots Alliance. GE still has a higher market cap than Walgreens, but its flagging performance and steep downward curve persuaded the the compilers of the index at S&P Dow Jones Indices that it was no longer sufficiently representative of the state of the US economy and of the stock market. It's a purely symbolic blow to GE but no more damaging than that. Most market-watchers reacted with bemusement, especially to the selection of Walgreens as GE's replacement. Although it increases the DJIA's weighting towards consumer staples, a traditional bricks and mortar retailer is hardly symbolic of the current state of the market compared to, for example, Amazon, or Facebook or Google parent Alphabet.

Adbrands Weekly Update 24th May 2018: General Electric continued the sell-off of what it now considers to be non-core divisions with a sale of its transportation business to Wabtec, a maker of passenger and freight locomotives. The deal is valued at around $11.1bn in stock and cash. GE gains $2.9bn in cash and will retain a 50.1% shareholding in the merged entity. GE's industrial solutions division is already being sold to ABB, and the group is in negotiations with several potential buyers of its lighting technology division.

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