Effective this August, energy titan General Electric (NYSE:GE) CEO Jeff Immelt is stepping down and bequeathing his position to former head of GE Healthcare John Flannery.
In this Industry Focus segment, Motley Fool analysts Sean O'Reilly and Taylor Muckerman explain who Jeff Immelt was for GE -- when he stepped in to head the company, what huge changes he guided GE through as CEO, and why GE's stock performance during his run might be a bit misleading. Also, they look at the shape Immelt is leaving GE in, what relevant experience Flannery has, how the market has reacted to this news, and more.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on June 15, 2017.
Sean O'Reilly: Mr. Jeff Immelt, leaving GE after 16 years. He, of course took over for Jack Welch. That was a big deal, a very big deal.
Taylor Muckerman: Not only was it a big deal, but it was at a big time in the world. It was right the same week as Sept. 11.
O'Reilly: Oh, my gosh, are you serious?
Muckerman: I'm dead serious, yes. So he not only had to take over one of the largest companies in the United States --
O'Reilly: The symbol of American business.
Muckerman: And ingenuity, yes. And at one of the toughest times and U.S. history. Then he also had to lead this company through the great financial crisis, where at the time, it was a massively important company in the financial world.
O'Reilly: It was deemed a systemically important financial institution, which sounds insane.
Muckerman: Yes. So when you look at this company's performance in the stock market since he took over, it's vastly underperformed the Dow and the broad S&P 500, but it was a little bit more exposed to the financial crisis than most other companies outside the banking sector.
O'Reilly: I flipped through the annual report last week. In order to get out of the financial GE Capital business, they sold the operations, asset, all the things they own, everything. They've done just under $200 billion worth of asset sales. Of course, that was tied to a lot of liability, so I'm not saying "They have a $200 billion cash hoard." The bottom line is, they moved around $200 billion worth of stuff. That's walking-around money.
Muckerman: Jeff Immelt did that. So, granted, the stock price might not have done that well over 16 years, but the company is dramatically different than it was. It's still making billions of dollars, and it's completely reinvented itself. So now, only about 10% of its earnings are going to come from a financial portion of its business, not necessarily even GE Capital.
O'Reilly: It's interesting to me. One, I'm wondering if he planned this the whole time, because this is a year after they moved to their new campus for their headquarters, and they finally got out of the GE Capital business. Is this what the plan was all along?
Muckerman: I don't know if it was his plan all along. It certainly was their plan after 2008 and 2009. So now you have this industrial behemoth, what it used to be, essentially. You have some healthcare exposure. But some of its biggest businesses are power and renewable energy. Power is 21% of its revenue, roughly, and renewable energy is about 7%, and then just recently, just yesterday, the Baker Hughes merger was officially passed by the regulators here in the United States.
O'Reilly: Unsurprising after the European --
Muckerman: Yeah. It's free and clear. They can move ahead with that. This is only a couple years after they acquired Alstom from France, and that dramatically increased their business in the power segment with offshore wind turbines, transmission equipment. They're a big player.
O'Reilly: Not only did they have a very decent foothold in renewables. If you need an aircraft engine or a wind turbine --
Muckerman: Or a gas turbine. They had the gas-turbine business, they bought Alstom, they added the wind, so now they have gas and wind, which you can imagine, both are going to be huge components of future energy production, or power production. Probably the two biggest in the next couple of decades.
O'Reilly: I'm wondering what the calculus was there. I don't know if it was just more impressive or what, but this leads me to my next question that I wanted to get your thoughts on, which is the guy taking over, John Flannery.
Muckerman: Yeah, I don't know if he's a lifer, but he's been there for ...
O'Reilly: Thirty years. He's been there for 30 years. He's a lifer, but he's the former head of GE Healthcare.
Muckerman: For the last few years, yeah.
O'Reilly: It's not the turbine business. But I also tend to think of one of the more innovative things that GE has done in recent years has been the healthcare stuff. You see the commercials for a GE MRI machine at a hospital. He actually went on record with this interview the other day, like, "Yeah, I'm going to take the strategies that I used to turn around the healthcare business and apply them to the rest of -- "
Muckerman: Yeah, it was a pretty stagnant business before he took over.
O'Reilly: Right. That's kind of cool. I'm very curious what the strategies exactly are.
Muckerman: Yeah, he has broad exposure. Like you said, healthcare was his latest experiment as an employee of GE. He's been part of their equity business, their capital business. He's very well respected within and outside of the firm. You've seen quite a few executives rush to his support saying this is big shoes to fill, but it's the right guy to do it.
O'Reilly: Yeah, I couldn't help but notice, it's probably good for Flannery. Mixed bag, possibly bad for Immelt. But the stock was up a few percentage points.
Muckerman: Yeah, I think it was up about 4%. They have Trian Partners --
O'Reilly: Did they endorse it?
Muckerman: Well, they support the moves that Immelt's been making and the company's been making, but they've been itching for change in management, so maybe folks are more relieved --
O'Reilly: Mixing things up.
Muckerman: -- that there's clarity. The markets appreciate clarity.