You would expect nothing less than immense self-belief from the chairman and chief executive officer of General Electric (GE), one of the world’s biggest companies, but Immelt’s confidence has no doubt been boosted by the announcement on 23 January of GE’s full-year financial results for 2005, which showed a 12 per cent rise in profits to about $18,300 million on record revenues of about $149,700 million, 11 per cent up on 2004.
According to the company, the record performance was the result of strong organic revenue growth across all six of GE’s business units, but central to the success, says Immelt, was strong growth in the developing markets of Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. ‘We are in the middle of one of the great demographic trends of life,’ says Immelt. ‘Infrastructure investment in the developing world from 2005-15 will be about $3 trillion-4 trillion. It is massive. So we are positioning ourselves to support that.’
In 2005, GE turned over some $25,000 million in the developing world, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year. Of this, about $8,000 million came from the Middle East and Africa. ‘We have a thrust on driving infrastructure sales in the company,’ he says. ‘And we have a unique set of technologies, such as energy and healthcare that provide a good fit for the needs of developing markets. These are the markets that we are targeting.’ Immelt anticipates a 20 per cent rise in developing market revenues in 2006 to about $30,000 million, with Middle East and Africa turnover rising about 25 per cent to $10,000 million in 2006. And in the Middle East, he anticipates that the growth could be even greater. In 2005, the Middle East generated revenues for GE of some $3,000 million. Immelt says this could jump to about $5,000 million a year by 2007, boosted by the income from two mega deals signed in the Gulf in 2005: a $2,500 million order from Emirates for GE 90 aircraft engines; and the $520 million Ras Abu Fontas B2 power plant project in Qatar. He says Middle East revenues could reach $10,000 million by 2010. ‘There is tremendous growth in the region as a result of a massive increase of wealth as oil prices have increased from $25 a barrel to $60-70 a barrel,’ he says. ‘The governments of the region have got the desire to redeploy the wealth into infrastructure, energy and healthcare. So GE is the recipient of that. So our business leaders are open for investment opportunities in the region and open to partners.’
Immelt says GE has become more aggressive in order to capitalise on the new era of high oil prices. ‘When oil prices rise from $25 a barrel to $60 a barrel, we play a little bit of defence, taking cash from plastics, etc. And a lot of offence, in terms of new investments,’ he says. ‘Our planning is based on oil prices not going below $40 a barrel and not above $80 a barrel.’
This paradigm shift in the oil markets has a double impact on GE. Firstly, as a consumer of energy it significantly increases the company’s cost base. In 2004, rising energy and raw materials prices cost GE about $500 million in lost earnings. In 2005, the company was able to offset much of the impact by increasing its prices. And by continuing with a renewed pricing strategy, Immelt believes GE will have mitigated entirely the impact of rising costs in 2006. However, the high oil prices also create an opportunity for the company. ‘Driving fuel diversity is a key part of the change for our energy business,’ he says. ‘It changes the nature of where we think opportunities are around the world. Regions change their priorities. So we need to deploy our workforce where it is needed. ‘
Immelt is attracted by the spread of privatisation policies in the region that are creating opportunities for private sector companies to finance and operate national inf