GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Step Down After 16 Years -- 4th Update

By Thomas Gryta and David Benoit Features Dow Jones Newswires

General Electric Co. said longtime leader Jeff Immelt will step aside as chief executive on Aug. 1, ending a 16-year run atop the conglomerate that he reshaped after the financial crisis but has struggled recently to boost profit.

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GE said Monday that Mr. Immelt will be replaced by the head of the company's health care business, John Flannery, and retire as chairman of the board on Dec. 31. Mr. Flannery, 55 years old, is a 30-year veteran of GE who spent much of his career in the company's once sprawling financial business.

The change comes as GE has been under pressure by activist investor Trian Fund Management to slash costs and boost profits in the company's core industrial business. Mr. Immelt recently laid out two-year cost saving target and revamped GE's executive bonus program under pressure by Trian. Some Wall Street analysts had recently openly wondered about when Mr. Immelt might retire, but the CEO gave no sign he was ready to step aside.

Mr. Immelt, 61, sold off GE's media businesses and divested the bulk of the company's lending businesses after the financial crisis. GE shares have fallen about 30% since he took over in 2001. The conglomerate has refocused on its industrial businesses, shedding low-margin units like home appliances and striking a big oil-and-gas deal with Baker Hughes Inc. last fall.

GE shares, which had fallen 12% year to date, rose 3.3% to $28.88 in premarket trading.

GE said the leadership change has been in the works for years, with the board deciding on the timing in 2013 and voting Mr. Flannery as CEO Friday. Last month, Mr. Immelt told analysts the board had been working on succession plans but didn't indicate a decision was imminent.

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"We've got a disciplined process. And I think we've got it well on track, " Mr. Immelt said at an investor conference.

The succession planning, which included external candidates, was narrowed to four internal candidates in about 2015: Mr. Flannery, finance chief Jeff Bornstein, the head of the power business Steve Bolze, and the head of the oil and gas business Lorenzo Simonelli.

Throughout 2016, those four were interviewed and increasingly given public exposure and investor interviews and by the end of the year, the timing and process for the change was set up, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Immelt felt the portfolio work he had been concentrating on would be nearing the right time this summer, this person said. Mr. Immelt and the board would have rather had a share price in the $30 or higher range for the change, but the timing wasn't influenced by investor pressure, according to this person.

Mr. Flannery will review the businesses and doesn't come into the job with any sacred cows, but no major changes are anticipated at this time and there is no mandate to shake up the portfolio, the person said.

Mr. Flannery is the former head of GE's India business and former leader of its deals team. On Mr. Flannery's watch, GE spun off its consumer credit business, Synchrony Financial, sold its appliance business, and purchased of the energy business of Alstom SA.

He stepped in to lead the health-care business in 2014 when the unit was struggling and some analysts called for GE to spin it off or sell it. Instead, Mr. Flannery and GE have doubled down. The unit, which makes imaging and diagnostic equipment, has been expanding into life sciences. GE Healthcare's revenue rose to $18.29 billion in 2016, back to levels it sustained in the beginning of the decade, while increasing operating profit.

Mr. Flannery was one of several business units heads that were seen as potential successors. Mr. Immelt had told people close to him for years that he didn't want to repeat the divisive and protracted succession process that put him in the top job when he took over from Mr. Welch. Instead, he wanted his eventual departure to be quick and seamless.

Mr. Bornstein will remain chief financial officer and become vice chairman, GE said. Mr. Flannery will take over as chairman of the board next year.

The new CEO will be focused on cash flow management and shareholder value and will work closely with Mr. Bornstein on costs, the person familiar with the matter said.

Write to Thomas Gryta at thomas.gryta@wsj.com and David Benoit at david.benoit@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 12, 2017 08:52 ET (12:52 GMT)