General Electric Co. is about to split itself into three smaller parts to create what it says will be three "industry-leading, public companies" with three focused end markets.
That's a very big change for the GE of 20 years ago when it was the world's largest company with a hand in almost every manufacturing (and finance) sector. For the plastics industry, the new announcement builds on a divestment strategy that began with the sale of its materials supply business to Sabic in 2007.
GE sold off its massive appliance business to China-based Haier in 2016, although Haier uses the GE brand name.
On Nov. 9, GE said it will spin off its health care business in early 2023; combine its renewable energy, fossil-fuel power and digital units into a single energy-focused company that will be spun off 2024; and retain its GE Aviation business.
I'm not a business expert by any means, but even I can recognize that the industrial world of the 1990s is something of a dinosaur compared to today. Massive companies that once stretched across the world making things are shrinking while digital empires rise. Industrial conglomerates still exist in a few regions, but most global companies are more focused today.
During the 1990s, Jack Welch — the onetime plastics division employee who was CEO at GE for 20 years until his retirement in 2001 — was seen as an oracle whose philosophy of business was turned into best-selling books. (Truthfully, I was never a fan of his theory on firing a certain percentage of people every year. That sounds like a terrible workplace experience that encourages more backstabbing than collaboration.)
So is the proposal to pare down GE another corporate fad that will seem out of place 20 years from now? Will the pendulum swing back toward conglomerates? I suppose we'll have to wait and see.