Was GE correct in replacing its CEO?

A nagging thought kept running through my mind when I read #GeneralElectric had replaced Mr. John Flannery as Chief Executive Officer after just 14 months on the job: Was he given enough time to fix this huge severely distressed $120 billion company?

My answer is no…

It would take at least 3 years to fix a company with the complexity and size of General Electric. It is extremely difficult to even save a smaller company with sales under $300 million in only one year, based on my own experience completing a number of turnarounds as CEO. This type of challenge takes time.

In my experience, although the chief executive officer I replaced had failed, the Board of Directors were at times also at fault and contributed to the failure. In more than one turnaround, the Board was more at fault than the chief executive officer.

It is not difficult to determine that a company is failing but surprisingly, in my experience, some Boards did not recognize that management failed and that the company was in trouble until the decline was at a desperate crisis level.

One has to wonder….

Why wasn’t General Electric’s decline identified some years earlier when it would have been easier to fix the problems? Siemens, one of General Electric’s competitors, realized it was headed for trouble in 2003 and began a restructuring. Now Siemens is reportedly successful.

News reports suggest GE’s entire Board of Directors will be replaced by 2019. There are currently six new Board members. But 5 of the 11 current Board members recently involved with removing Flannery were also on the Board during the company’s decline. Did these five Board members participate in the decision to replace Flannery? If yes, how can anyone be certain the latest move was sound? Or did this Board make another poorly considered decision that got General Electric in trouble in the first place?

Personally I find General Electric’s demise particularly sad, since I started my career at GE. I would have thought this decline would have been virtually impossible after the excellent job Mr. Jack Welch completed in building GE from its troubled condition when he took over.


Bloomberg: GE Ousts Flannery After Slump, Names Lawrence Culp CEO

Washington Post: Why GE is making a dramatic overhaul to its board of directors

CNBC: GE was once America’s most valuable company. Today it is fighting junk-bond status.

Wall Street Journal: GE Powered the American Century—Then It Burned Out

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Robert Amter
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