Is GE's Immelt On His Way Out Sooner than Later?

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General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt Speaks At The Bloomberg Link Energy 2020 Conference
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt.
By Supriya Kurane

General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt may step down sooner than his expected 20-year tenure, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the company's thinking.

Immelt, who has been at the helm of the industrial conglomerate since 2001, has led several board discussions about shortening the expected tenure for GE's next chief executive to between 10 and 15 years, the Journal said.

Among the leading candidates identified to succeed Immelt are Lorenzo Simonelli, who took over the leadership of GE's oil and gas unit last year; and Steve Bolze, who leads power and water, GE's biggest unit, the newspaper said.

GE spokesman Gary Sheffer said the company doesn't comment on speculations. "The GE board routinely discusses succession planning, which is a key part of its responsibilities," he said in an email response to Reuters.

The company said last month Immelt holds 1.96 million of GE shares. The CEO is the largest insider stakeholder, according to Thomson Reuters data, though his stake trails far behind those of the large institutional holders of GE stock.

Is GE's Immelt On His Way Out Sooner than Later?
It can't be said that there's no connection between performance and compensation; Blankfein's tenure at Goldman shows some correlation. In 2007, he took home a staggering $68.5 million -- the record for investment banker compensation. After the bailouts, Blankfein's pay dropped to $600,000 in 2008, and $1 million in 2009 (still a relative pittance). It rebounded in 2010, however, reaching $25.6 million, but fell back to around $12 million after Goldman's profits dropped in 2011. But the relationship between CEO quality and salary is not always clear: This year, Blankfein lead the way among big bank execs with $26 million, despite job and compensation cuts at Goldman.
In 2012, Dimon's pay was cut in half from the previous year, reflecting the $6.2 billion trading loss out of JPMorgan's London office (and a resultant Senate report saying the bank had mislead shareholders and regulators). He still got a healthy $11.5 million.
The founder and leader of Capitol One (COF) earned $17.5 million last year. Bloomberg considers him the most overpaid bank CEO.
No. 1 U.S. home lender Wells Fargo (WFC) had a banner year, banking a record $18.9 billion profit. Stumpf, who denies the existence of "a subsidy or unfair advantage from being perceived as too big to fail," took home $19.3 million. He currently chairs the Financial Services Roundtable, Wall Street's lobbying arm.
Outside the world of banks, the U.S. Justice Department on Friday announced its opposition to American Airlines' proposed $20 million severance for CEO Tom Horton. The carrier, owned by parent AMR Corp. (AAMRQ), is merging with US Airways Group (LCC); Horton became CEO when American filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2011. But even though American wants to give him all that cash, plus lifetime flight benefits, Horton won't actually be joining the ranks of the unemployed: The plan is to make him chairman of the combined company after the merger.

As the Associated Press explained, "Bankruptcy law limits severance payments to executives and aims to make sure companies can repay as much of their debt as possible." The government's objection observed that, according to previous filings by American, Horton would have received at most $6.4 million if he had left at the end of 2012. Why so much more money now? American's board should have to explain how the $20 million figure was determined, the trustee's office says. And guess who the chairman is: one Thomas W. Horton. Bankruptcy court will consider the question on June 4.
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