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General Electric’s transformation just took a big step forward

The Robin Hood Foundation's 2015 BenefitThe Robin Hood Foundation's 2015 Benefit
And for my next number...Jeff Immelt will update on GE's exit from finance and its return to its industrial roots.Photograph by Kevin Mazur — Getty Images

General Electric chief Jeff Immelt has sold a $32-billion portfolio of loans and leases to Wells Fargo (WFC), the latest move in his strategy of abandoning GE’s giant finance business and transforming the company into a 21st-century web-enabled industrial enterprise. He’s making it happen with blazing speed; since announcing the strategy six months ago, he has sold over half the $200-billion-plus of assets he aims to off-load, putting him way ahead of schedule. Nonetheless, this is a multi-year project, and investors aren’t yet persuaded the bold new strategy will work. The stock (GE) has risen in the past week, but it’s only back to where it was after spiking on Immelt’s April announcement that he was divesting GE Capital.

A fascinating angle on this latest deal is the contrast in strategies between Immelt and the buyer, Wells Fargo’s John Stumpf. He and J.P. Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon are clearly the most successful bank CEOs to come through the financial crisis and post-crisis period. Immelt hated being a government-designated systemically important financial institution (SIFI), and GE will cease to be one sometime next year. Stumpf is doubling down on being a SIFI, figuring that getting bigger is the best way to prosper in the face of the stringent SIFI rules. Given the differing hands that Immelt and Stumpf were dealt, it could well be that both are right.

For a deep look at General Electric’s challenges, read this recent Fortune magazine article:

For GE, breaking up is hard to do

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