CEO change at GE may mean delay or cancellation of GE Healthcare spinoff–for good or ill

The well-publicized and unvarnished dumping of GE‘s CEO John Flannery after only 13 months has led a leading research analyst to predict that the planned GE Healthcare spinoff will be delayed or even halted. Analyst Jim Corridore of CFRA stated on CNBC that incoming CEO Lawrence Culp, a recent board member who was CEO of Danaher, a scientific, industrial and healthcare conglomerate, may decide that the division should stay. 

At $19 billion in revenue with a profit of $3.4 billion, 15.8 percent of GE’s total sales and 43.2 percent of its operating profit in 2017, the wisdom of a GEHC spinoff always seemed doubtful. The selloff was in line with Mr. Flannery’s strategy of refocusing on GE’s industrial and energy business. However, this was not going terrifically well, at least in the BOD’s view, with a sluggish turnaround, shares dropping off the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, projections of missing year-end targets, activist investor Nelson Peltz hovering, and exacerbated by problems at GE Power with its new line of natural gas-fired power turbines. Perhaps a few were doubly offended by the selloff of the corporate jets (relative pennies) as well as the expensive and frankly hard-to-justify corporate HQ move from Connecticut to Boston.

Mr. Culp is apparently well-thought of, having retired after a highly successful 14-year run at Danaher, but he has his work cut out for him. He will also need to quickly judge whether to continue the GEHC spinoff process or bring the cattle back into the fold, as the drive was well underway down the trail. Somehow, spinning off 40 percent of your operating profit seems strategically foolish given a plummeting share price.

A jaundiced opinion. Perhaps as an outsider, Mr. Culp can change the ‘death star’ culture at GE. This Editor, in her brief encounter with GEHC as part of an acquired company (Living Independently Group, developer of QuietCare, circa 2008-9) found their business practices and many of their people to be both ruthless and self-referential to the point of stumbling blindness. The LIG acquisition was part of an ill-considered and perhaps ego-driven experiment by GEHC’s CEO at the time to get into home, remote monitoring, and assisted living health, a developmental, small-scale, early-stage area. It was obvious that GE’s vaunted methodology and hospital-based acute care experience were worse than useless when it came to understanding what is still a developmental area. The home health businesses were sold, closed, or (in the case of QuietCare), spun off into a joint venture. That CEO and a few other people leveraged it well; LIG’s employees, shareholders, and others at GEHC did not. 

As Star Wars fans know, Death Stars are destroyed in the final reel.

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