NEW YORK: Embattled industrial giant General Electric announced a massive restructuring plan on Monday (Nov 13) that includes thousands of job cuts and sales of some business units as the new management tries to right the corporate ship.
Newly-installed CEO John Flannery rolled out the plan to investors in New York, describing a moment of reckoning for the company amid falling revenues, a steep drop in share price and accusations of corporate waste and mismanagement.
With its market capitalisation down by more than US$100 billion since January, the 125-year-old manufacturer of jet engines and power turbines will shed about US$20 billion in assets over the next two years.
The firm will sell off parts of its transportation and electricity businesses as part of the turnaround that will narrow the conglomerate's focus to aviation, healthcare and energy.
It also slashed its quarterly dividends in half to 12 cents, will reduce the number of seats on the board to 12 from 18 beginning in April, and will tie executive pay to results.
"We have not performed well for our owners," Flannery said. "That is unacceptable and the management team is completely devoted to doing what it takes to correct that."
Investors were unimpressed, however, and shares in GE had nosedived more than eight percent to US$18.85 by early afternoon in New York, putting the company on track for one of its worst one-day declines since the financial crisis.
Chief Financial Officer Jamie Miller said the company will cut the corporate workforce by 25 per cent.
Currently at about 24,000 employees, that means at least 6,000 job losses in that division alone, which includes research and digital. However, most of those cuts have already have taken place, according to GE.
Beyond that, the company has not yet provided details of the layoffs, or the other countries or units that will be impacted, referring broadly to "workforce reductions" through cost cuts, cessation and consolidation.
But GE Power, which includes Alstom, will undergo a major overhaul to cope with the changes in the energy market.
Flannery said the Alstom energy business, which GE bought in 2015 for US$13.5 billion in the company's largest-ever acquisition, was "disappointing." "Alstom has fallen below expectations," he said.
He praised the unit's employees but lamented its poor performance in renewable energy and the time needed to close the deal.
"We didn't have a clear view of the market," he added in thinly veiled criticism of his predecessor Jeff Immelt, whom Flannery replaced in August.
Flannery said the turnaround plan would deliver a "simpler, more-focused GE." "Complexity has hurt us," he said.
'SHOW ME TIME'
GE also will shed its majority stake in the oilfield services company Baker Hughes.
The shift favours the conglomerate's strongest divisions: aviation, energy and health, including medical equipment and services. Those units employed 156,000 people at the end of 2016, and represented 57.7 per cent of overall revenues that year, which amounted to US$123.7 billion.
Immelt, the former CEO, faced biting criticism for having failed to foresee dropping demand for equipment and technology in oil and gas sector amid tumbling energy prices.
But strong demand in the commercial transport sector has put wind under the wings of GE's aviation business.
GE was due to pay out US$8 billion in dividends to its shareholders but by September had cash flow of only US$7 billion. Flannery said such hefty payouts no longer made sense.
GE now forecasts earnings per share of US$1 to US$1.07 in 2018, which Flannery called a "reset year." "It's show me time. We have to perform and execute," he said.
Flannery said he recognised the dividend cut would hurt those shareholders most who relied on dividends for current income, acknowledging "the gravity of this decision and the effect it has on many people."
"We understand this is an extremely painful action for our shareholders," Flannery said, adding that the decision was made "after extreme deliberation and consideration of what the alternatives were."