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Monday, 27 November, 2000, 17:34 GMT
New chief for world's biggest firm
Jack Welch, outgoing president, General Electric
Under Jack Welch GE's value rose from $13bn to $500bn
The business world's own long running presidential battle ended on Monday when the biggest company on the planet elected a mathematics graduate to the top job.

General Electric, the 120-year-old US conglomerate, announced that Jeffrey Immelt would become the firm's ninth president and chairman on the retirement of the legendary Jack Welch.

Mr Welch, who is 65, announced his resignation more than 18 months ago and was originally timetabled to step down next month.

But he extended his term to the end of next year to oversee the integration of aircraft electronics giant Honeywell, which GE took over for $45bn last month.

'Natural leader'

"Jeff Immelt is a natural leader," said Mr Welch, who has led GE since 1981.

"He brings a keen strategic interest, a cutting-edge technological background, strong leadership characteristics and a unique set of team-building skills".

Markets reacted positively to the news. Shares in GE, the only firm listed on the benchmark Dow Jones industrial average which was there when the index was launched in 1896, rose to $50.5 from $49.25 at Friday's close.

The announcement ends months of speculation over who would succeed Mr Welch as head of GE, a Connecticut-based services, technology and manufacturing company which employs about 340,000 people worldwide.

Father and son

Mr Immelt, who was chief of the firm's medical systems arm, is thought in the final reckoning to have beaten the head of the firm's aircraft engines division and the leader of the power systems business.

Mr Immelt, whose father worked for GE for 38 years, has been with the company since 1982.

He is known to have been a keen follower of Mr Welch's business techniques, and, at 44-years-old, was seen as suitable because of the length of time he could potentially serve before retirement.

If history is repeated, Mr Immelt's appointment will spell a shake up at GE.

A management restructuring and strategic shift initiated by Mr Welch is credited with ensuring GE's rise in market capitalisation from $13bn when he joined to more than $500bn.

When Ralph Cordiner, Mr Welch's predecessor, took over in the 1950s, he launched a huge decentralisation campaign, backed by the setting up of GE's own management school to ensure the necessary supply of high-quality managers.

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See also:

07 Jun 00 | Business
Microsoft: No longer the biggest
23 Oct 00 | Business
General Electric buys Honeywell
13 Jul 00 | Business
GE gets e-commerce boost
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