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GE shares drop the most in 15 months on surprise retirement of CFO

Key Points
  • Trian Partners' Edward Garden will take a board seat currently occupied by the retiring Robert Lane.
  • On Friday, GE said CFO Jeff Bornstein would retire, to be succeeded by Jamie Miller, most recently the executive who ran GE Transportation.
  • Shares of GE have dropped 25 percent this year.
General Electric sinks on more leadership changes

Shares of General Electric tumbled 4 percent on Monday after several senior management and board changes, including Friday's surprise retirement of its chief financial officer.

On Monday, GE said Edward Garden of the activist hedge fund Trian Partners will take the seat on its board occupied by Robert Lane, a former CEO of Deere & Co. who has retired from GE's board after 12 years. Trian owns about 1 percent of GE shares and has been pushing for changes at the company.

But analysts said the real surprise was the announced retirement of CFO Jeff Bornstein, who will be succeeded by Jamie Miller, an executive who most recently ran GE's Transportation business. The change is one of the most sweeping moves yet under new Chief Executive John Flannery and takes effect next month.

Analysts say even though new CEOs typically bring in their own teams, the departure of the straight-talking, cost-focused Bornstein stoked fears that more bad news could be coming. Shares of GE are down 25 percent this year, and Monday's drop was the biggest daily decline since June 2016.

"While not an implausible event, we believe the management changes at GE reinforce our view that core fundamental challenges are worse than consensus is currently discounting, with a new wrinkle added around possible outcomes from events this fall, almost none of which are positive," wrote Stephen Tusa, a JPMorgan executive director and GE analyst. He rates the stock underweight.

Flannery is trying to take $2 billion of costs out of the company, including grounding its fleet of corporate jets. GE has missed some key targets in recent quarters including free cash flow — misses that took place under Bornstein.

The addition of Garden to the board comes as he and Flannery have spent time getting to know each other, sources told CNBC, including a meeting on Friday. Flannery, who assumed the title chairman last week, is said to want a strong board and is willing to involve Trian more closely.

Flannery became CEO in June, and outgoing leader Jeff Immelt was set to retire at the end of this year but said last week he would leave now, two months earlier than expected.

WATCH: Trian's Ed Garden elected to GE board

Trian's Ed Garden elected to GE board of directors