General Electric: A Finger in Every Pie

You get a sense of General Electric's (NYSE: GE  ) vast diversity when you read CEO Jeff Immelt's nutshell view of 2007. Alongside global opportunities, he lists "environmentally favorable technology, increasing use of digital connections, and robust liquidity in the financial markets" as growth drivers going forward.

Other than Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) , I can't think of another company that cares about environmental industrials, digital communications, and capital market liquidity. OK, maybe Mitsui (Nasdaq: MITSY  ) , but that's about it.

When Immelt took over after industry legend Jack Welch retired five years ago, he set out to transform GE from a stodgy by-the-numbers operation into a dynamic, creative, and growing enterprise. The old hobbyhorse of being No. 1 or No. 2 in every market remained, but for the first time, managers of all levels were encouraged to challenge their assumptions and come up with ways to grow the business other than by acquisition.

GE was used to annual organic revenue growth in the 5% range; now the stated goal is "8% organic revenue growth and 10%+ earnings growth, with operating cash flow growth greater than earnings." For 2006, the company produced 9% organic growth, 14% better income from continuing operations, and yes, $24 billion of operating cash flow beats $20.7 billion of net earnings.

GE is one of only six non-banks with a AAA Standard & Poors credit rating -- others include UPS (NYSE: UPS  ) , ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) , and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) -- and management is putting that creditworthiness to work every year with opportunistic acquisitions that are way beyond what the other triple-As are doing. The latest round of acquisition announcements are expanding GE's medical segment from $15 billion of yearly revenues to nearly $18 billion. That wasn't even a reportable segment when Immelt took the helm.

Immelt is constantly reshaping his company in a manner that reminds me of Sam Palmisano at IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) . The difference is that GE has even greater resources and a wider operating scope than Big Blue, and the vicissitude is a deliberate strategy at GE, while IBM would presumably like to find a stable operating platform at some point. To each his own; it looks like change is good to both companies right now.

Further Foolishness:

Berkshire Hathaway and Pfizer are two Motley Fool Inside Value selections, and UPS is an Income Investor pick. Check out the whys and wherefores with a free 30-day trial to either service.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Pfizer shareholder, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is always dependable.


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