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 very 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 an interest across almost every manufacturing (and finance) sector.
For the plastics industry, it's part of a divestment strategy that began with the sale of GE's materials supply business, including GE Plastics, to Sabic in 2007.
I'm not a business expert by any means, but even I can recognize that the industrial world of the 1990s is seen as something of a dinosaur these days. David Letterman himself used to poke fun at the idea of one company owning both NBC and a plastics business. Not to mention having executives whose resumes included management experience at both.
Want another example with a plastics twist? How about Tyco International Ltd., once a conglomerate whose extensive operations included one of the world's largest plastic film businesses.
Here's some plastics conglomerate trivia: Who remembers the name of the CEO that Tyco brought in in 2002 to break up the conglomerate, including selling that plastic film unit? It was none other than Ed Breen, who made a name for himself as a breakup expert.
Now Breen is doing the same thing at DuPont Co., where he is trying to sell the engineering thermoplastics business that includes the industry-leading nylon unit.
During the 1990s, Jack Welch — the one-time plastics division employee who was CEO at GE for 20 years until his retirement in 2001 — was seen as an oracle whose philosophies in business were turned into best-selling books.
GE leaders were in great demand to run other companies. A few plastics examples include Stanley Gault, who ran Rubbermaid and Goodyear, and Larry Bossidy, who ran AlliedSignal.
There are still plenty of former GE Plastics executives running major plastics companies. Too many to name, really.
(One reason there are a lot of former GE Plastics managers is because the company encouraged turnover, that was part of the culture. Truthfully, I was never a fan of Welch's 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.
Follow Plastics News Assistant Managing editor Rhoda Miel on Twitter @PNRhodaMiel.