From turbines to TV, from household appliances to power plants, General Electric (GE) is plugged in to businesses that have shaped the modern world. The company produces -- take a deep breath -- aircraft engines, locomotives and other transportation equipment, kitchen and laundry appliances, lighting, electric distribution and control equipment, generators and turbines, and medical imaging equipment. GE is also one of the US's pre-eminent financial services providers: GE Capital, comprising commercial finance, commercial aircraft leasing, real estate, and energy financial services, is its largest segment. GE's other segments are Energy, Aviation, Healthcare, Home & Business Solutions, and Transportation.
Although financial services is GE's biggest segment, the company's raison d'etre has traditionally been its industrial products. In response to changes in the economic markets, the company has shuffled its organizational structure several times as of late. In 2011 it reorganized its former Technology Infrastructure segment into three segments: Healthcare, Aviation, and Transportation. It also dropped its NBC Universal segment after selling its controlling stake in NBC. (GE now owns 49% of the newly formed venture NBCUniversal.) Previously, GE planned to spin off its appliance unit as a result of slow growth, but those plans were put on hold due to the poor economy. The company recommitted to its appliances and lighting business by creating the Home & Business Solutions segment in 2010.
The company's financial services businesses have also taken a hit in the rocky economy. GE Capital offers commercial loans and leases, consumer loans and credit cards, fleet management, and other services. To combat losses in the financial services unit, the company is exiting underperforming or noncore businesses; it has sold numerous units (such as its credit card businesses in the UK and Ireland, its consumer business in Canada, its GE Money Japan unit, and its trailer fleet services business in Mexico) and it continues to seek opportunities for other divestitures. To manage its debt and lending, GE has also tightened its underwriting standards and increased its collections manpower. In an effort to diversify its capital business, the company announced plans to buy MetLife's banking unit in 2011.
For the most part, GE has tried to reduce its reliance on its riskier financial businesses and make further investments in its infrastructure and health care sectors. The company has embarked on a series of energy acquisitions, helped by capital received in the NBC sale. In 2011 it spent $3.2 billion to acquire France-based Converteam, a maker of automation and electrification equipment. To complement that acquisition, GE announced it will build a solar panel factory in the US. The plant (the largest in the country) will make enough panels to power 80,000 homes every year. It is part of GE's plan to invest more than $600 million in its solar energy segment. It's also making plans in 2013 to pilot a renewable energy power plant in Indonesia through a partnership with Perusahaan Listrik Negara. Concentrating their efforts on Sumba and other islands, the pair will be using wood chips as a fuel source to provide electricity to millions of rural Indonesians.
But that was just one of several big deals the company made in 2011. GE that year bought industrial equipment manufacturer Dresser for about $3 billion; it was later folded into GE's Energy Services and Power & Water business units. GE also bought Lineage Power, which makes power converters for computer data centers, for some $520 million, as well as waste-heat recovery systems maker Calnetix Power Solutions. The company acquired UK-based pipeline products manufacturer Wellstream for approximately $1.3 billion and then bought frame technology from Wind Tower Systems, which it will use to build taller wind turbine towers that can accommodate longer blades. GE also acquired Commtest, a New Zealand-based company that designs and makes systems that monitor machinery function.
The company hopes to double its oil and gas revenues by 2015 and plans to continue making investments to grow the business. In line with that strategy, GE in 2013 is acquiring Texas-based Lufkin Industries, which specializes in providing artificial lift technologies for the oil and gas industry as well as making industrial gears. The proposed $3.3 billion deal, which will broaden the GE Oil & Gas unit, supports the company's plans to tighten its focus on industrial customers by providing services and equipment. Previously, GE bought the Well Support operations of British energy services company John Wood Group for $2.8 billion in 2011. (GE had sold its security business to United Technologies Corporation (UTC) in 2010 in order to sharpen its focus on its industrial and manufacturing businesses.)
On the health care front, GE is partnering with Intel to develop products that will lower costs for at-home and assisted-living care. The venture will focus on chronic-disease management and independent living technologies. GE has been actively making acquisitions in this sector, too. It purchased diagnostics firm Clarient for some $580 million in late 2010 and bought cellular imaging company Applied Precision the following year.
Another growth area for GE is mining. In 2012 the company acquired underground mining equipment manufacturers, Industrea Limited and Fairchild International. Both companies are positioned for growth in China, Australia, and the US. It also created a new business unit that year, Australia-based GE Mining.
And in aviation, the company made a big move in late 2012 with the $4.3 billion purchase of the aviation propulsion components and systems business of Italy's Avio. The move expands GE's activities in the appealing jet propulsion segment and strengthens its global supply chain.
Overall, GE is recovering from the hit it took in 2009, largely related to financial services. Its income from continuing operations grew in 2010 and 2011, with all segments showing growth other than Home & Business Solutions and its appliances business. Energy & Infrastructure led the growth, primarily due to numerous acquisitions the company has made. Transportation, a relatively small part of the company's business, saw profitability more than double in 2011 as a result of increased equipment sales and services.
CEO Jeff Immelt is obviously not shy about making sweeping changes, whether by divesting underperforming segments or investing in probable growth industries. He has emerged from the considerable shadow of his predecessor, Jack Welch, by diverging somewhat from Welch's slavish obsession with the bottom line and encouraging managers to innovate and take more risks. As a result, GE has been growing in such areas as biotech, renewable energy, nanotechnology, and digital technology. He built the company's traditional businesses with acquisitions including Smiths Aerospace and Vetco Gray and exited the insurance industry.
In early 2013 GM agreed to sell its 49% stake in NBCUniversal for nearly $17 billion to Comcast as part of Immelt's strategy to focus on industrial operations. There was already a structure in place for Comcast to eventually take full ownership of NBCUniversal, but stronger than expected growth from the joint venture accelerated those plans.
Immelt has taken a page from his former boss' playbook by pursuing growth outside the US, particularly in emerging markets like India, China, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The company hopes to lead the push to expand US exports; GE is the among the world's largest suppliers of medical-imaging equipment, jets, locomotives, and power generation equipment. It sells its wares in more than 100 countries, and more than half of GE's revenues originate outside the US.