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GE a much smaller company at start of 2020

GE a much smaller company at start of 2020

2019 annual report summarizes changes in workforce as it builds leaner, more efficient operation
GE a much smaller company at start of 2020
The landmark General Electric sign at the foot of Erie Boulevard is shown in 2018.
Photographer: Peter Barber

BOSTON — General Electric on Monday released its annual report for 2019, once again painting a picture of a company rebuilding itself as a leaner, more efficient operation.

Some analysts found fault or promise in one statistic or another, but overall impact was hard to gauge: The U.S. stock markets experienced a huge swoon Monday over corona virus concerns, and fell nearly as much for the same reason Tuesday.

The eye-catching revelation in the report that GE had 78,000 fewer employees worldwide at the end of 2019 than at the 2018 might seem an extreme result, but most of the change was the result of the conglomerate divesting itself of certain component business:

Oil & Gas had 65,800 employees at the end of 2018, Transportation 9,400, Lighting 3,000, and Current an undisclosed smaller number. All four businesses were off GE’s books by the end of 2019.

GE Power, the electricity-generating business that was for years the heart of the company and until recently was headquartered in Schenectady, had a huge swing of its own: It went from 59,700 employees to 38,000 employees in 2019. 

But that again was the result of corporate restructuring — the Grid Solutions unit was moved out of Power and into Renewable Energy. Renewables jumped from 22,900 employees to 43,000 in 2019.

Power made a series of decisions in the mid-2010s that General Electric later said proved costly because of poor timing or strategy or execution, and Power has been the focus of turnaround efforts.

In its annual report, General Electric said the marketplace in which GE Power operates remains challenging but the changes being made are resulting in signs of stabilization, with incremental improvements likely in 2020 and more significant progress in 2021 and beyond.

General Electric no longer provides specific job totals for its sprawling campus at the foot of Erie Boulevard in Schenectady, but said Tuesday that overall employment in the Capital Region — which includes the world headquarters of Global Research in Niskayuna and a small factory in North Greenbush — is about 4,000. That is the same total it offered for the Capital Region in late 2018. 

There have been job cuts in Schenectady and Niskayuna, though the company has refused to say how many. A GE executive gave some insight during an early 2019 conference call when he said Schenectady and Greenville, S.C., had been cut by a third.

In late 2017, the company said it had more than 6,000 workers in the Capital Region.

Here are some other 2019 numbers from the annual report GE issued Monday:

  • GE ended 2019 with 205,000 employees, down from a recent peak of 313,000 (in 2017).
  • Its workforce in the United States dropped from 97,000 to 70,000.
  • Union representation fell from 9,900 U.S. workers to 6,750.
  • Spending on research and development totaled $4.17 billion, down from $4.9 billion two years earlier; internal R&D funding fell 25% and external funding increased 46% in those two years.
  • GE Power’s profit margin swang from -3% to 2%.
  • GE Power has gone from being one of General Electric’s largest businesses to its smallest — Aviation, Healthcare and Renwables all have more employees now. Aviation and Healthcare also have larger revenue totals and much better profit margins.
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