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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 usually regarded as 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 years, it was among the foremost US mediaowners through its NBC television network and the Universal Pictures movie studio, but these were sold to cable operator Comcast in 2013. For decades, GE was one of the world's biggest non-bank financial services providers, but it 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 group's underlying strategy of focusing instead on its core businesses in industrial engineering and technology has also 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 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. It took a while, but he finally managed to steer the group back to profitability in 2020 after a series of sizeable losses. However, the succession of disposals has caused revenues to plunge from a peak of over $180bn in 2008 to just $74.2bn in 2021. The group reported a net loss of $3.7bn after writing off $6.5bn in debt. Aviation - primarily jet engines and related technology - is now GE's biggest operating division, but sales have tumbled, down by a third year-on-year, and so have profits as a result of the impact from the Covid pandemic. As a result, healthcare has become the cornerstone to the new GE. 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. Aviation and Healthcare accounted for vitually all the group's operating profit in 2021. In a startling new development, GE announced plans in Nov 2021 to split into three separate public companies by 2024: GE HealthCare, GE Aerospace and GE Vernova for the energy and power businesses.

Capsule checked 26th January 2022

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Recent stories from Adbrands Update:

Adbrands Daily Update 9th Nov 2021: It could finally be the end of the road for General Electric as we know it. The one-time giant of American industry announced plans to break itself up into three separate public companies. First to go will be GE Healthcare, which is set to be spun off as a standalone business in early 2023. The power and energy business will follow suit in 2024, leaving only the group's aviation division.

Adbrands Daily Update 11th Mar 2021: In a further dismantling of its portfolio, General Electric is to spin off one of the last remnants of its once-mighty GE Capital division. Jet leasing unit GE Capital Aviation Services (or Gecas) is being merged with rival AerCap in return for a 46% stake in the resulting business and $24bn in cash. GE will use the proceeds to pay off $30bn of its $75bn in debt.

Adbrands Daily Update 28th May 2020: Years after it first began offloading its consumer operations, General Electric has finally found a buyer for its original foundation business of lightbulbs. That represents the last of GE's consumer-facing divisions. The home appliances division was eventually sold, after several false starts, to Haier of China in 2016. The buyer of the lighting business is Savant Systems, best-known as a maker of home automation systems. It has acquired a long-term license to continue using the GE brand. Total deal price is around $250m including debt and liabilities.

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.

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