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GE's fmr. embattled CEO Jeffrey Immelt wants to set the record straight in new book

Charles Gasparino

Jeff Immelt wants to tell his side of the story.

The former chief executive of General Electric, who stepped down from the struggling conglomerate in 2017 after an uneven 18-year tenure, is writing a book about his career at the firm, people with direct knowledge of the matter tell FOX Business.

The book is intended to blunt criticism of Immelt’s years as CEO, where he took over the job at one of corporate America’s biggest companies in 2001 from the legendary Jack Welch, who built GE into a colossus with one of the best-performing stocks in the market.

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Immelt’s years as CEO have received decidedly mixed reviews from analysts, shareholders and employees who have seen the price of GE stock fall to near penny stock levels until recently. Immelt has earned praise for guiding the company through the fallout of the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial crisis, which nearly pushed GE into insolvency amid a credit crunch that swept through corporate America, particularly financial firms.

GE’s finance arm GE Capital — once an earnings powerhouse — was said to be reeling from investments in toxic assets, and Immelt helped secure government assistance to keep the firm alive. But it was never enough to save the company’s business model — a far-flung conglomerate with multitudes of business lines — from market skepticism that said it was too complicated.

Meanwhile, shares of GE never reached their Welchian highs and in recent years would sink to new lows amid accounting problems and surprise losses, leading to Immelt's exit three years ago amid pressure from activist investor Nelson Peltz.

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Since Immelt’s departure, GE is on its second CEO, Larry Culp, who replaced Immelt’s immediate successor, John Flannery, in 2018 after a short and largely unsuccessful attempt at a corporate turnaround. GE’s legacy issues of unfunded pension liabilities, accounting problems and its massive size continue to weigh on company shares even as Culp has mounted an aggressive effort to fix the company.

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As FOX Business reported Friday, Culp has not reached out to Immelt or even Welch for advice on the turnaround, a sign company insiders say, that he is looking to distance the company from its controversial past.

But Immelt, according to people who know him, believes he's getting a bad rap for GE's near implosion and there's lots of blame to go around for the company's sorry state. Those issues and the protection of his own legacy is why Immelt is writing his book, said to be published possibly this year through Simon & Schuster, people with knowledge of the matter tell FOX Business.

A spokesman for Immelt didn’t return a telephone call or email for comment. A spokesman for Simon & Schuster had no comment.

FOX Business has not reviewed the book's manuscript but among the topics people say Immelt will explore is his relationship with Welch, the former long-time GE CEO, chairman and later superstar business guru who picked Immelt to succeed him in 2000. The relationship between Immelt and Welch has turned toxic amid GE's troubles.

Immelt is said to believe he was handed a difficult and nearly impossible job matching Welch’s results at GE, which were fueled by the 1990s stock market bubble. It’s unclear how much blame he will give Welch for extending GE’s footprint into non-core businesses outside power and manufacturing.

Welch, for his part, has criticized Immelt’s leadership mainly in private but his words have made it back to his hand-picked successor and the two have barely spoken in recent years.

Welch is not alone in blaming Immelt for GE’s woes. Among the biggest criticisms of Immelt among former executives was he didn’t move fast enough to transform GE’s business model to reflect the market demands for a smaller, leaner company. Another major criticism is that under Immelt GE embraced reliable energy fads that did little to help the company’s bottom line.

Sources tell FOX Business that journalists are also preparing books about GE’s rise and fall that will likely be critical of Immelt’s tenure as CEO. Author William Cohan is working on a book titled “Power Failure” scheduled to be published next year.

Publishing sources say Immelt has shown his manuscript to former GE executives; it is unclear if Welch has seen a copy.

A spokeswoman for Welch declined comment.

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