Today we released our 2020 Annual Report. Below is an excerpt from my letter to shareholders. I urge you to read it.
Last year was marked not only by its challenges, but by how the world met them. I'm proud of the meaningful progress GE made in 2020. We have momentum and intend to build on it.
The path forward was not a straight one. We began 2020 with a clear game plan, strength in Aviation and Healthcare, and turnarounds well underway in Power and Renewable Energy. Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world, disrupting how we live and work and exacting terrible human costs. In GE’s businesses, the rapid decline in air travel and disruption of global supply chains hit hard.
I often have witnessed our employees’ battle-tested commitment and grit over the past two-plus years. Nowhere was this clearer than in the face of the pandemic, and I am profoundly thankful to them. In our mission-critical industries, GE’s people served on the front lines since the beginning, from delivering hospital equipment in the first days in Wuhan, China, to maintaining the power equipment that keeps the lights on across the globe.
Take our Aviation team in Cheltenham, U.K., for example. With demand for patient monitors outstripping Healthcare’s production capacity, they helped Healthcare take over available floor space at their factory. Using lean principles and only the materials they had on hand, that Healthcare team went from zero to more than 5,000 patient monitors in 15 weeks, delivering one of our hospital customers’ most important tools to fight COVID-19.
Together with our customers, the GE team kept power flowing, hospitals operating, and planes flying. To emerge as a stronger company, we also adjusted our operating model, based on three principles.
First, embrace reality. Our former chairman Jack Welch, whose passing we mourned last year, spoke of the need to “face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” While our business impact was severe, we couldn’t know early on by how much or for how long. We needed to think about the unthinkable and prepare for a range of outcomes, meeting daily, sometimes hourly, to gather information and adjust.
Second, redefine winning to focus and motivate our teams. In 2020, this often meant simply getting safely to a customer site, completing an outage, or shipping one more ventilator off the line. It also meant focusing on what we could control, including in our operations.
Third, execute the plan. We moved quickly to reduce costs, preserve cash, and manage our debt obligations. We made deep cuts to our global Aviation workforce, an extraordinarily difficult but necessary decision to protect the business long term amid the pressure our airline customers were facing.
These steps, combined with the headway we already had been making to improve execution, strengthened our capacity to work through the uncertainties triggered by the pandemic. And they helped us move faster on our journey to transform GE’s performance and culture.