A building that seems to be impregnable may be turned into ruins in an instant. For this simple philosophy, Immelt, who took office the day before "9.11", may have a deeper understanding than anyone else. Sitting on GE's century-old tower, Imelt is confident, but it is inevitable that there will be ice under his feet.
GE is already very large. In the past, he used mergers and acquisitions to promote the company's performance growth, but at the same time, he also believes that maintaining growth in M&A is dangerous, and the larger the merger, the higher the risk.
He has some contradictions. On January 15, 2007, GE announced the acquisition of British aviation component manufacturing company Smith Aircraft Components for $4.8 billion. After three days, Abbottâ€™s diagnostic equipment business is also changing to GE. The speed of Immelt's shot seems to be reminiscent of Welch.
Big ship steering
Immelt is Immelt. If there is something in him that is in line with Welch, it is to constantly break the tradition, including breaking the old. Today, more than five years later, the color of the Welch era has long faded into people's memories. Under scrutiny, from the inside out, GE feels like a familiar encounter but no stranger. The above two acquisitions are just a microcosm.
Through the merger, Immelt tried to inject GE's body into a viable cell that continues to grow. On January 5 this year, GE said it plans to acquire wireless technology provider microwave data system company, but did not announce the acquisition amount. Microwave Data Systems has only 275 employees and its main business is the design and production of wireless communication microwave equipment. According to GE estimates, the current global industrial wireless technology market is about $1.3 billion, and is expected to grow by 15% in 2007. This technology can be used to enhance GE's products in the Energy, Transportation, Equipment Services and Oil and Gas business units. In the same month, GE announced that it had reached an agreement with a private equity fund to acquire the fund's Vetco Gray oil and gas equipment company for $1.9 billion.
From 2001 to early January this year, GE's acquisition amount has exceeded 100 billion US dollars, of which only 15 billion US dollars in January this year. The acquisition targets mainly in the fields of medical, biotechnology, clean energy, water treatment, oil and gas equipment, railway locomotives and other fields. In Immelt's view, these are areas with great potential, bearing the future of GE.
On the other hand, some underperforming businesses are sold. In 2005, GE sold its reinsurance business to Swiss Re for $7.6 billion, and Immelt considered the return on capital for the business to be too low.
On January 8 this year, there was another news that GE began to look for buyers for its plastics business. The business accounted for 8% of GE's operating income, with a lower share of profits. In the third quarter of 2006, GE's profit increased by 10% year-on-year, while the plastics business profit decreased by 23%. Immelt has made it clear that GE will withdraw from the general plastics business and only retain special plastics with higher profit margins.
This is a symbolic move. Plastic, like blood, flows through GE's blood vessels. When Welch first entered GE, his office was on a street named after plastics. His management skills were just beginning to be noticed by doubling GE Plastics within three years. Immelt himself has been a sales representative for GE Plastics. So in the eyes of some people, selling plastics business is like proving that GE is eliminating the last mark of the Welch era.
In addition to the plastics business, the proportion of GE's low-margin, slow-growing businesses, such as industrial materials, insurance, household goods, and lighting, has also declined. By 2005, the share of these businesses in GE's revenue had fallen from 33% in 2000 to 10%.
Undoubtedly, Immelt hopes to achieve a continuous growth in GE's development direction through major adjustments to GE's business structure. From a practical point of view, Immelt is approaching the goal step by step. The company's financial report released on January 19, 2007 showed that profit in the fourth quarter of 2006 increased by 108% year-on-year. Even without considering the $2.7 billion accrued in the same period of the previous year, the profit growth in the quarter exceeded 12%. For a company as large as GE, such growth is quite rare. Earlier, it also announced that its 2007 profit growth is expected to reach double digits.
Still, investors don't seem to buy it. At an internal meeting in 2005, many GE managers expected the company's share price to rise to $60. In fact, GE's share price performance has been poor for the past few years. At present, its share price is still about 10% lower than when Immelt took office, while the S&P 500 index rose by 25%.
Some analysts pointed out that the deviation between stock price and performance growth is also one of the reasons that prompted Immelt to increase the pace of mergers and acquisitions. In any case, a new GE has appeared in front of people.
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