Diverse portfolio key for GE

07 September 2011

NEW YORK: General Electric, the US conglomerate, believes holding a diverse portfolio and enhancing its global presence will be essential to fuelling future growth.

Jeff Immelt has just reached his ten year anniversary as GE's CEO, during which time the company has offloaded its plastics and insurance arms, as well as NBC, the TV group, and seen revenues hit $150bn.

Its current areas of focus include technology-driven categories like healthcare, aviation and energy, and the organisation expects to at least match the S&P 500 in terms of growth rates in the next few years.

"It is hard to do that when you are selling 40% of the company, going through big dispositions and portfolio changes," Immelt told the Wall Street Journal.

"If I look at the company today looking forward, we have a great portfolio, we've invested in good products, we're in the right markets," he added. "We like having a diversified portfolio globally."

One pressure point has been analysts and investors who suggest GE Capital, its financial services unit, is out-of-keeping with the rest of its stable, and is acting as a drain on resources, especially since the recession.

"In the fall of 2008, it was a tough neighbourhood," Immelt said. "Historically, it has been a good performer in the portfolio. More importantly, when I look forward in the future, we see some good competitive advantage."

More than 60% of GE's sales now come from outside the US, and Immelt argued this trend was set to continue. "We think we're going to be powered by global markets for a long time," he said.

"We are not just China-dependent. We see good growth opportunities in Brazil and the Middle East and Russia and a lot of different places," he added. "The middle class is growing in a place like Brazil, so as that happens health care grows, electricity grows."

Despite this, Immelt warned the era of double-digit revenue expansion was unlikely to return, not least because of the company's existing scale.

"I think when you get big, it is harder. You have to be doing more things well to continue to drive the same growth," he said.

Immelt has also drawn personal criticism for taking up the post as chairman of President Obaama's job council, and GE has come under fire over accusations it paid comparatively little tax in the US last year.

"We do very frequent surveys of GE, and the brand reputation is still very strong, bad press aside," Immelt said.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal/Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff