GE's Immelt Declines 2009 Bonus; Total Pay Nudges Up
General Electric Chairman and Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt declined a bonus for a second consecutive year, but his total compensation rose slightly from 2008, largely reflecting a change in pension values.
Immelt, in an annual letter to shareholders ahead of the company's April shareholder meeting, described recent times as "The Decade From Hell," and said the company was going to refocus on its core industrial businesses, counting on global growth in infrastructure.
Immelt's 2009 compensation totaled $9.89 million, up from $9.28 million 2008, but below 2007's total of $14.29 million, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The compensation includes $4.4 million in a higher pension value, reflecting a change in the discount rate and Immelt's age and service period, GE said in its filing.
Louis Chenevert, CEO of fellow industrial United Technologies , received 2009 compensation valued at $20.5 million, a 13 percent cut from 2008, according to that company's proxy filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Immelt, the 54-year-old CEO of the U.S. conglomerate, earned a base salary of $3.3 million, which has not changed since April 2005. Immelt asked the board that he not receive a bonus for 2009. In 2007, the last year he received a bonus, it totaled $5.8 million.
"Although the board felt he had performed extremely well in 2009 in a tough environment, they agreed to his request," GE said.
Because of a change in SEC rules, GE valued Immelt's 2008 stock awards at $2.04 million, rather than the $6.86 million it reported a year ago. That difference explains why Immelt's 2008 compensation appears lower than the company reported in February 2009.
'Decade From Hell'
"We suffered one of the worst global economic downturns in history," Immelt wrote in a letter to shareholders that opens by calling this era The Decade From Hell. "The banking system teetered on the abyss.
"The world has been reset. Today's uncertainty feels like the 'new normal.' We will not return to the relative tranquillity of the pre-crisis world. Growth will be harder to come by, trends will be more volatile and constituent voices will be louder. We see this environment as an opportunity to renew GE."
That renewal, Immelt writes, involves turning GE into an industrial company first, focused on global infrastructure in areas like energy, healthcare and aviation, with only strategic growth in financial services. The company has adopted a more conservative attitude to cash, Immelt wrote, a practice that will remain in place even as the economy improves.
GE will focus on expanding high-margin services on its products, an area that represents the bulk of its industrial earnings. The company will emphasize growth in emerging markets, including local manufacturing.
"Infrastructure earnings should continue to be strong," Immelt wrote. "By 2011, we should see earnings growth from both equipment and services."
The Fairfield, Connecticut-based company is now retrenching. On Monday, GE closed on its sale of its security arm to United Technologies, expects to close on a sale of a majority stake in its NBC Universal media business—including CNBC—to No. 1 U.S. cable operator Comcast later this year and is looking into selling its 20.85 percent stake in Turkey's Garanti Bank.
Immelt has said he expects GE profit and revenue to be more or less flat this year as the largest U.S. conglomerate recovers from a brutal recession that pounded its GE Capital finance arm. The company also lost its coveted triple-A credit rating and its profit tumbled 38 percent.
A year ago marked a bleak time for shareholders of the 130-year-old company — its stock fell to an 18-year low of $5.87 on the New York Stock Exchange over concerns about the stability of its finance unit. Since then the stock has almost tripled in value.
Immelt has spent all of his career at GE, with the exception of a brief stint at Procter & Gamble between his graduation from Dartmouth College and his later enrollment at Harvard Business School.
He has led GE through some tumultuous times for the U.S. economy, taking the reins on Sept. 7, 2001, days before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that chilled the global aviation industry.
Separately, the proxy filing showed Vice Chairmen Keith Sherin, Michael Neal and John Rice saw their total compensation dip from 2008, but all made more than Immelt. All three, as well as vice Chairman John Krenicki, received bonuses ranging from $2.5 million to $3.9 million.
The board awarded Immelt 2 million stock options on March 4, valued at about $7 million to $8 million, a total that will be reflected in next year's proxy statement. Half of the options convert into stock if GE's industrial cash flow tops $70 billion; the rest, if GE shares beat the S&P 500 index. GE's annual shareholder meeting will be held in Houston on April 28. Its shares were up 1.1 percent in Friday afternoon trading to $16.29.