General Electric shares finished last week strongly after separate media and analyst reports stoked speculation that Jeff Immelt’s long and eventful reign at one of America’s biggest companies could be drawing to a close.
To be sure, neither Immelt or the company have indicated that the 61-year-old is going anywhere just yet. GE doesn’t have a mandatory retirement age, though previous CEO Jack Welch stood down when he was 66, having occupied the top job for around two decades.
The company’s shares rose as much as 2.6% on Friday after Fox Business reported that activist investor Nelson Peltz isn’t happy with the company’s performance and may push for Immelt’s departure. Separately, an analyst at Barclay’s said a change in CEO “is worth 5% to the stock”.
GE shares are little changed from where they were when Immelt took the reins in 2001. The Ohioan, however, has helped steer the company through the global financial crisis. and, in recent years, slimmed its focus to concentrate on engineering after its financial services business consistently dragged on profits.
He’s also compressed costs by scaling up through the acquisitions of power generation business Alstom and oil and gas services provider Baker Hughes, while championing investments in disruptive digital engineering capabilities.
GE missed its own revenue target for 2016, apparently concerning Peltz, who would only say that his hedge fund Trian Fund Management and GE “continue to work constructively together to optimize shareholder value.”
Immelt also has been unfortunate enough to preside over the company during a historic fall in oil prices, which would have sapped demand from some of GE’s big energy customers.
“Normally, we expect our diversified model to shrug off headwinds in one market and continue to achieve our goals,” he said in a letter to shareholders last month. “In 2016, we simply couldn’t outrun the pressure in the resource markets.”
Whenever Immelt does leave, the company could well stick with tradition and chose an internal successor. Potential candidates include CFO Jeffrey Bornstein, power business head Steve Bolze and healthcare business head John Flannery.