Dear fellow shareholder,
This is my first letter as Chairman and CEO of our company.
I want this to be a document you can use as a reference for how we plan to run GE for the long term. As the saying goes, this is a game of inches every day, not feet or miles, and I want us all to keep score together. My goals are aligned with yours.
Like so many of you, I have been a lifelong student of GE. My earliest mentors cut their teeth at this company, and much of how I have operated and approached leadership and teamwork throughout my career is rooted in GE’s own storied management philosophy.
Coming into GE with this foundation from the outside has its advantages. Someone with a fresh set of eyes can ask new questions and look at challenges in a different way. We face a number of hurdles, but the entire team at GE is focused on tackling our issues head on and making progress across multiple metrics. In this letter, I’ll walk you through the actions we are taking to improve our financial position and strengthen our businesses.
It is clear we have work to do. In 2018, weak execution and markets in Power were partially offset by strength in Aviation and Healthcare. We took several charges related to Power and finalized a $15 billion capital shortfall with our regulators related to our run-off insurance business. We made major changes to GE’s strategy, portfolio, leadership, and board—my own appointment included.
We are doing everything in our power to return GE to a position of strength, and we will need your support and patience to make sure we do so. I am confident that we can for three reasons: our team, our technology, and our global network.
First and most importantly is our team. One of the first things I did as CEO was to begin to meet and talk with GE people. What I found were talented colleagues from all over the world with grit, resolve, and intelligence. They do not need any convincing that how we operate must change. They are up for the fight and ready to win—because GE matters.
GE matters because our technology helps bring progress and possibility to every corner of the planet—safely delivering people where they need to go; powering homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses; and offering more precise diagnostics and care when patients need it most. Our equipment and solutions are deployed in two-thirds of the world’s commercial aircraft departures,1 more than 2,200 gigawatts of the world’s power generation capacity, and more than 4 million healthcare installations. This vast and valuable installed base keeps us intimately involved with and often responsible for the daily operations of our customers around the world, constantly helping us to better understand and serve their needs.
This purpose has driven more than 125 years of GE innovation, and it is as strong as at any time in our history. That’s what drives the renewal of our aircraft engine portfolio—from the T901 turboshaft for the U.S. Army to the GE9X, the world’s largest jet engine. It is why Renewable Energy is building the Haliade-X, the world’s largest and most powerful wind turbine, which has blades longer than a football field. It is why our engineers were the first to leverage new gas turbine technology, setting world records for combined-cycle efficiency with our HA turbines in both 2016 and 2018.2 And it is why Healthcare helps doctors develop more precise diagnostics and treatment that can give hope to patients whose diagnoses were previously considered hopeless.
Many companies have strong talent and technology. But few also operate with the depth and strength of GE’s global network. We’ve built a local presence, a strong brand, and deep customer relationships in more than 180 countries, and have invested in emerging markets in Africa and Asia for more than 100 years. We are proud to serve as true partners in their growth and development—offering resources and experience, investing in local talent and supply chains, and bringing other partners along with us. These networks will continue to be our unique competitive advantage as we pursue profitable, cash-generating growth for years to come.
With these strengths as our foundation, we have a straightforward plan to address our issues and define GE’s path forward, focused on two priorities.
Improve our financial position
First, we are putting GE on firmer financial footing. Simply put, we have too much debt and we need to reduce it thoughtfully and soon. Once we put our balance sheet in a healthier place, we’ll be in a better position to play offense across all our businesses.
We intend to maintain a disciplined financial policy, targeting a sustainable credit rating in the single-A range, GE industrial leverage of less than 2.5x net debt*-to-EBITDA, a GE Capital debt-to-equity ratio of less than 4-to-1, and ultimately a dividend level in line with our peers.
This starts with reducing leverage at both our industrial businesses and GE Capital, and we have taken important steps to get there. We completed substantially all of our $20 billion industrial asset sale plan, and we also announced the sale of our BioPharma business to Danaher Corporation for more than $21 billion. We have more options available to us down the line to generate cash to help bring down our leverage, including our remaining interests in Baker Hughes, a GE company (BHGE) and Wabtec Corporation and continued flexibility for our go-forward Healthcare business. We also took the painful but necessary action of reducing GE’s dividend, allowing GE to retain approximately $4 billion of cash per year compared to the prior payout level.
Our strategy at GE Capital continues to center on de-risking the balance sheet and reducing our assets to become a smaller, more focused business. We made strides in 2018, executing on $15 billion of our $25 billion asset reduction plan, paying down debt by $21 billion, and enabling $10 billion of orders for our industrial businesses. We also recently assessed the reserves we hold for our run-off insurance business. We recorded an additional reserve of $65 million, after tax, and consistent with what we laid out last January, we plan to contribute approximately $14.5 billion of capital over seven years. We contributed $3.5 billion of this in 2018 and $1.9 billion in 2019.
Over time, the biggest lever we have to improve our financial position is to prioritize cash generation in each of our businesses. To that end, we are improving how we operationally manage cash every day, in every business, and are using lean management practices to improve working capital levels. For example, our Aviation team used lean and digital tools to improve average cycle time for the LEAP-1B, reducing the average engine assembly time by 10 days, or 36 percent. This led to lower inventory levels, more efficient throughput, and ultimately more available cash.
We are also removing waste and increasing speed across our supply chains—from our suppliers through our factories and field service force and into our customers’ workflows. That helps our partners, and it helps us.
Investing for the future
- LOGIQ E10 Ultrasound
Launched the LOGIQ E10, a next-generation radiology ultrasound system integrating Artificial Intelligence , cloud connectivity, and advanced algorithms to acquire and reconstruct data faster than ever before – which helps clinicians make a real difference in patient care.
- Reservoir Storage Solution
Announced Reservoir battery energy storage platform that delivers 5 percent higher efficiency and reduced installation time and costs.
- Haliade-X Offshore Wind Turbine
Introduced the Haliade-X 12 MW, the most powerful offshore wind turbine in the world.
- Cypress Onshore Wind Turbine Platform
Launched onshore wind turbine platform Cypress, which features a jointed, customizable blade that is easier to transport and tailor according to each customer’s needs.
- GE9X Engine
Achieved first flight of the GE9X, the world’s largest jet engine. Slated for certification this year, the GE9X powers Boeing’s new 777X, and is designed to deliver 10 percent improvement in fuel efficiency compared to the GE90-115B-powered Boeing 777-300ER.
Strengthen our businesses,
starting with Power
Our goal is to run more empowered, accountable businesses that are in the best possible position to create value for their customers and improve top-line and bottom-line performance.
We have strong fundamentals in many places from which to build. Aviation had an outstanding 2018, expanding segment profit by 20 percent. The team shipped over 1,100 CFM International LEAP engines—a remarkable achievement in just the third year of production—and ended 2018 with more than 11,000 units in backlog. 2018 also marked entry into service for our Passport engine and the first flight of the GE9X.
Revenue in Healthcare grew by 5 percent organically*, driven by growing demand in developed and emerging markets for Healthcare Systems and continued growth in both biologics and contrast agents in Life Sciences. Segment margins increased by 100 basis points on an organic basis* due to the team’s strong productivity and execution.
Renewable Energy revenue grew by 4 percent in 2018, and our onshore team was recognized as the No. 1 wind turbine manufacturer in the United States for 2018 based on new installs.3 However, profitability fell, and we are focused on improving margins by driving better productivity and reducing cost.
2019 will be a year of change for Power in particular. Power’s challenges in 2018 were rooted in a combination of secular and cyclical market pressures, ongoing profit and cash pressures from legacy contracts, and some issues of our own doing. Going forward, we will continue aligning our cost structure with this new market reality, and we’ve eliminated some headquarter layers to improve accountability and cost structures in underlying businesses.
We also need to run Power better, improving how we manage our inventory and material management, product development and delivery, and billings and collections. For example, by moving responsibility for collections closer to the customer relationship managers, Power was able to improve its visibility to cash and collect it earlier in the quarter. Where we used to get just 35 percent of our cash in the first two months of the quarter, in the fourth quarter, Power increased this to 50 percent. This kind of operational improvement takes hard work, and it is a multi-year journey, but I'm encouraged by the Power team's dedication and progress.
For changes like these to truly take root, our businesses need to have more control over their decisions and rely less on the corporate office. Broadly speaking, if we want to run more empowered and accountable businesses, we need to radically change how we operate across GE.
Part of this involves sharpening our focus. We are investing in high-tech industries where we have large, mission-critical installed bases with high potential for aftermarket services and parts, and where our engineering, manufacturing, and service scale provide competitive advantages.
We announced plans to exit BHGE and GE Transportation to give them greater control over their strategic direction and capital allocation. The recently announced sale of our BioPharma business gets us closer to a place where we aren’t spending so much of our agenda tending to the balance sheet, putting us on better footing to consider the right options for Healthcare over time.
We reorganized our Global Growth Organization and Global Operations to serve local market and GE business needs more efficiently. Going forward, our center will be smaller and primarily focused on strategy, capital allocation, research, talent, and governance. In 2018, we reduced headquarters spend by over $400 million, and we’re de-layering at both Corporate and our businesses to improve accountability and visibility across our teams.
Finally, we’re reinventing how we work. GE has a long legacy of operating rigor, leadership development, and innovation, but our recent performance has exposed some gaps. We are getting “back to basics” by focusing on three main things:
- Put our customer at the center. As I’ve spent time with customers in China, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, it’s become clear to me that what they value is not always aligned with GE’s own metrics for success. For example, when I ask about quality internally, I often hear about our cost of quality, which measures our issues rather than how the customer experiences us. We need to shift our lens back to the customer and work backward to improve what matters to them. If we can do this successfully, our own growth and performance will follow. We can’t win unless our customers win.
- Manage for operational performance first. This means not just setting ambitious targets, but also making sure we have clear, achievable paths to get there. I’ve been spending lots of time in my reviews with the business leaders looking at detailed operational metrics and processes so that we can understand not just the “how much” of what we choose to do, but the “how.”
- Set fewer, more impactful priorities. GE has ambition like no other company I’ve seen. That’s mostly a good thing, but we need to focus our attention on the things that matter most so we can move them the furthest. At the company level, we have committed to the two priorities I just outlined: Improve our financial position and strengthen our businesses, starting with Power. We’ll operate in a similar fashion in each of our businesses.
This kind of work takes time. But it’s work we can no doubt do.
Path to growth
I am excited by the growth opportunities I see across GE’s markets.
In aviation markets, demand for air travel continues to grow, with more than 4.5 billion passenger departures projected in 2019.4 Relatively low fuel prices enhance commercial airline profitability and support continued operation of mature-fleet aircraft, while global defense spending is rising at its fastest rate in a decade.5
GE has provided groundbreaking propulsion technology for 100 years—since a Packard-Lepere biplane equipped with a GE turbosupercharger climbed to nearly 30,000 feet over McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, in 1919. Today, GE Aviation’s engines contain highly advanced technology including carbon composite fan blades, heat-resistant ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components, and 3D-printed metal parts designed to deliver industry-leading performance, reliability, and durability.
We are among the first to industrialize 3D-printing, also known as additive manufacturing, which expands design capability, improves performance, and simplifies manufacturing. We’ve produced more than 30,000 additive fuel nozzle tips for the CFM LEAP engine, and we’re expanding the use of additive on new engines such as the GE9X, Catalyst turboprop, and T901. While still an emerging technology, additive manufacturing continues to grow, and it’s helping us make better products for our customers at a scale few others have achieved.
In energy markets, governments and utilities all over the world face the challenge of bringing affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity to ever more people, all while reducing emissions and managing different fuel sources.
The energy mix continues to shift dramatically, with roughly two-thirds of global capacity additions through 2040 projected to be in renewables. Meanwhile, demand for natural gas is still on the rise, due in part to ample availability at low cost in markets like the United States and increasing coal-to-gas switching, especially in emerging economies in Asia.6
GE is determined to lead this transition. We’re making bold bets in clean energy while our turbines and technology allow customers to quickly dispatch more reliable, affordable fuels such as natural gas when they are needed. Across our product portfolio, we are using a combination of hardware and software to grow our service offerings and help utilities maintain and extend the life of their equipment.
Finally, healthcare markets need increased capacity, improved productivity, and better patient outcomes across the world. Aging populations, increasing chronic and lifestyle-related disease, accelerating demand for healthcare in emerging markets, and the increasing use of diagnostics and monitoring in patient care continue to fuel demand for healthcare systems like GE’s. And our imaging agents also help researchers improve clinical trials for new therapies by helping identify the patients most likely to respond to innovative new medicines.
It’s this kind of invention that is at GE’s heart and soul—in the words of our founder Thomas Edison, finding out what the world needs and proceeding to invent it. And our Research, Digital, and Additive teams reach across all GE’s industries to further boost this capability. More than 1,000 scientists at GE Research are continuing to invent the future in these markets, from artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics to material science, electric power, and bioelectric medicine. And our Digital team, newly reorganized to operate more like a startup, is focused on developing software for the Industrial Internet of Things. Their breakthroughs will help enable growth across our industrial portfolio for decades to come.
I’d like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to GE’s employees, customers, alumni, and Board for their commitment and passion to advance this company forward. I’ve found inspiration in their expressions of support (“we’re rooting for you!”) and offers to help (“what can I do?”). We have work to do, but we’ve identified clear opportunities for improvement and are addressing them with focus and energy.
Ernst Kraaij, a GE Power leader, wrote to me recently saying that he felt GE’s attitude right now is reflected in the famous proverb, “the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” I think that Ernst is right. At times, doing so can be painful, but we are embracing our reality and executing the plan we’ve laid out to create value for our people, for our customers, and for you. Now it’s more about what we do than what we say.
Thank you for the opportunity to earn your confidence and trust.
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
February 26, 2019
Some of the information we provide in this document is forward-looking and therefore could change over time to reflect changes in the environment in which GE competes. For details on the uncertainties that may cause our actual results to be materially different than those expressed in our forward-looking statements, see https://www.ge.com/investor-relations/important-forward-looking-statement-information. We do not undertake to update our forward-looking statements.