Welch to retire as GE chief

Industry titan to setp down April 2001

Jack Welch, a corporate titan of nearly legendary proportions, has put a date on his planned retirement from the helm of General Electric, the parent company of NBC.

Welch told NBC-owned cabler CNBC that he plans to step down as chairman and CEO in April 2001, after GE’s annual shareholders meeting. A new leadership will be in place, however, by the end of next year.

Welch, 63, has dominated GE for 17 years, rapidly growing revenue and profits and expanding its businesses around the world. Fortune magazine recently named him “Manager of the Century.” The company, with a current market capitalization exceeding $420 billion, posted revenue of $52 billion and a net profit of $5 billion for the first six months of this year.

Frustrated execs

GE bought NBC in 1986. While the network and its related businesses have by and large prospered, execs there are said to be frustrated by GE’s earnings-driven corporate culture that can make big acquisitions difficult. Many other media companies are evaluated by their cash flow and are less skittish about diluting earnings or racking up debt in order to grow.

Rumors of a spinoff of NBC or of its combining with a studio continue to linger, although the consensus on Wall Street has been that no such major event will occur under Welch.

News reports have named Jeffrey Immelt, the head of GE’s medical systems unit, and W. James McNerney Jr., who runs the company’s engine aircraft business, as two of the likely finalists for Welch’s job.