The General Electric Co. (GE), is one of the oldest industrial conglomerates in the U.S. It was founded by Thomas Edison in 1892, under the name Edison General Electric Company. By 2000, it had become the nation's largest company, with a market capitalization of over $600 billion.
GE has been a leading innovator throughout its history. Starting with Edison's first commercially-viable incandescent lamp, the company's earliest products included light bulbs, an electric locomotive, X-ray machines, and an electric stove.
But GE produces more than just electrical machinery, and the company was once a major player in the world of banking, plastics, computers, and even television broadcasting. Today, GE's holdings span the sectors of power, renewable energy, aviation, and healthcare. The company has been winding down in recent years through spinoffs and divestments, and currently has plans to split into three separate public companies in the coming years.
In the fiscal year that ended Dec. 31, 2021, the company posted a net loss attributable to its common shareholders of $6.8 billion, or $3.25 per share, on revenue of $74.2 billion. The company's market cap was $88.9 billion, as of the close of trading on April 25, 2022.
Below, we look at five of GE's major business segments.
- The General Electric Co. (GE) is one of the oldest and largest industrial conglomerates in the U.S. It was founded by Thomas Edison in 1892.
- Originally a manufacturer of electrical equipment, GE later branched out into diverse areas such as aviation, computers, plastics, banking, and even television broadcasting.
- GE Research has been responsible for major innovations such as the first American jet engine, the first commercial nuclear powerplant, and the first synthetic diamonds.
- Over the past decades, GE has sold or spun off most of its subsidiaries, with four remaining segments: GE Power, GE Healthcare, GE Renewable Energy, and GE Aviation.
- By 2025, GE plans to spin off its healthcare and energy businesses in order to focus on aviation.
- Revenue (FY 2021): $17.7 billion
- Profit (FY 2021): $2.97 billion
GE has been a healthcare innovator almost since its founding. As early as 1896, the company was building electrical equipment for the production of X-ray machines.
Today, GE Healthcare comprises one of the company's primary business segments. The unit specializes in medical imaging, patient monitoring and diagnostics, drug discovery, and more. It operates in more than 160 countries and employs about 47,000 people worldwide.
GE plans to spin off its healthcare unit into a separate public company in early 2023 while still retaining a 19.9% stake. The newly-formed company will be focused on precision health, an approach to healthcare that accounts for patients' unique genetic, behavioral, and environmental characteristics.
- Revenue (FY 2021): $16.7 billion
- Profit (FY 2021): $0.7 billion
Even before founding General Electric, Thomas Edison had already created the first electrical grid in 1882. His company played a pivotal role in developing the technology to generate and distribute energy. Over the following decades, GE continued to lead in energy innovation, introducing the first commercial nuclear reactor in 1957.
The company now offers gas and steam turbines that use fossil fuels or nuclear power to produce electricity.
GE is also an old hand in the entertainment business. In 1926, one of GE's subsidiaries launched the National Broadcasting Corporation, better known today as NBC.
GE Renewable Energy
- Revenue (FY 2021):$15.7 billion.
- Profit (FY 2021): -795 million.
In addition to GE Power, the company has also branched out into alternative forms of energy. GE Renewable Energy is a major GE business segment, with over 400 gigawatts of installed capacity worldwide. GE is now the world's fourth-largest producer of wind turbines, and the company's generators produce more than a quarter of the world's hydroelectricity.
In the future, the company plans to combine GE Power, GE Renewable Energy, and its GE Digital business, which provides software that helps companies to analyze and optimize their operations. These three businesses will become a single business and will be spun off into a separate public company in early 2024.
- Revenue (FY 2021): $21.3 billion
- Profit (FY 2021): $2.9 billion
GE has been a leader in developing aviation technology. The company built the first U.S. jet engine, the I-A, in 1941. In 1949, GE developed the J47, which would become the most-produced jet engine in history.
Today, GE Aviation designs and manufactures commercial and military aircraft engines, engine components, and electric power and mechanical aircraft systems. The unit also offers aftermarket services to support its products. GE will be a single aviation-focused company following the spinoffs of GE's other businesses in 2023 and 2024.
GE Capital suffered heavily in the 2008 Great Recession, due to its overexposure to commercial real estate and subprime lending. These losses prompted the company to shed most of its financial operations.
GE was once a major player in the banking and insurance industries, with half a trillion of total assets and over 35,000 employees worldwide in 2012. In fact, Money Magazine applauded GE Capital Bank for having the best savings account in the U.S. in 2013.
Starting in 2015, the company began to sell off most of its banking and finance arms. Over the following two years, further consolidation took place with additional business units being folded into other GE business arms, such as healthcare or aviation.
However, there are still a few remnants of GE's financial empire, including GE Energy Services and GE Credit Union. However, revenues from GE Capital are no longer tallied as a separate business segment and are now reported under "Corporate."
What Companies Does General Electric Own?
As of 2022, General Electric's operations are divided into four business segments: GE Power, GE Renewable Energy, GE Healthcare, and GE Aviation. The company plans to separate them into three distinct companies by 2025.
What Has GE Sold Off?
Following the 2008 financial crisis, GE was forced to sell off many of its peripheral businesses to other companies. GE Plastics was sold to Saudi Arabia in 2007; GE Transportation was sold to Wabtec; GE Appliances was sold to Haier, and most of the company's financial operations were sold to Wells Fargo and other banks. The company also sold its last stake in NBCUniversal to Comcast in 2014.
Is General Electric Owned By China?
No. In 2016 General Electric sold GE Appliances to Haier Group, a Chinese conglomerate based in Qingdao. This sale was misreported on social media platforms as a direct purchase of GE by China.
Does GE Still Own GE Capital?
Although GE still owns the GE Capital name, it has sold most of its banking and finance operations to other companies. CEO Jeff Immelt announced in 2015 that the company would sell $200 billion of GE Capital's assets, except for those parts used to fund the core operations of aviation, energy, and healthcare. As of 2022, GE Energy Finance is the only division left of GE Capital.
The Bottom Line
General Electric was once the largest conglomerate in the United States, and the name GE is still nearly synonymous with American entrepreneurship and ingenuity. However, the company has shrunk in recent decades, as company leaders have spun off or sold many of the company's subsidiaries. Under current plans, GE will become solely focused on the aviation industry following the spinoff of the company's healthcare and energy divisions.