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GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt steps down earlier than expected

General Electric announced Monday that Jeffrey Immelt retired as director and chairman of the company’s board of directors, about two months earlier than expected.

In June, GE said Immelt would retire from the board at the end of December.

The board elected John L. Flannery, who became CEO of the company in June, to the chairman position effective Monday.

Immelt also retired as a director and chairman of the board of Baker Hughes, which completed its combination with GE Oil & Gas in July.

“Jeff feels John is prepared to be chairman and CEO now and leaving GE allows him to look at opportunities outside the company,” a GE spokeswoman told CNBC.

Brian Langenberg, an industrial analyst at Langenberg & Co. who covers GE, said the news that Immelt is leaving earlier as chairman isn’t significant given the reins of the company have already have essentially passed to Flannery, a 30-year veteran of the company.

“I think of John [Flannery] as an internal promotion,” said Langenberg. “I don’t think they’ll be any particular new vision.”

The analyst said he expected Flannery will keep the focus on cutting out costs and spending “while they figure out what they want to be when they grow up.”

Under Immelt, GE transformed from a far-flung conglomerate to an industrial company focused on the faster-growing industrial and power sectors. The company under his watch also sold or spun off major businesses, including appliances, insurance and plastics, as well as NBC Universal, among others.

“Obviously it hasn’t been a successful tenure,” said Langenberg.

Immelt succeeded Jack Welch as CEO in 2001 and led the company through the Sept. 11 attacks, the financial crisis and oil price swings. Immelt also helped with the restructuring of GE Capital in shifting the company’s focus away from finance towards manufacturing.

There’s been talk of potential dividend cuts. However, Langenberg expects GE raises enough cash to cover the dividend.

“If they did cut the dividend, that would be a sign that things are much worse than we thought,” said Langenberg.

GE shares were about 0.3 percent higher in extended hours trading. The stock is down 22 percent this year.

Disclosure: CNBC and CNBC.com are units of NBCUniversal, which is now owned by Comcast.

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