Attached Message
From: Nancy Hwa <>
Subject: Article about GE shareholders meeting in Erie paper
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2008 19:00:10 -0400
Hello, Helen,
Karen Ferguson wanted to make sure that you saw this article, which features you prominently.  Way to go!
Nancy M. Hwa
Communications Director
Pension Rights Center
1350 Connecticut Avenue, NW, #206
Washington, D.C.  20036-1722
(202) 296-3776, x109
(202) 833-2472 (fax)
Erie Times-News
Apr 24, 2008
In the spotlight: GE meeting puts Erie on national stage (VIDEO)
Immelt, retirees, investors voice their news, views
By Jim Martin
Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., hardly seemed surprised by the questions or fazed by the charges.
"You can't do a job like this if you can't take a punch," he said Wednesday.
Immelt, who opened and closed the meeting with a glowing tribute to Erie-based GE Transportation, took it on the chin more than a few times during the two-hour shareholders meeting at the Bayfront Convention Center.
Someone reminded him he was no Jack Welch, a reference to the company's former boss, who has been critical of Immelt in recent weeks.
He was beaten up for previously selling goods to Iran, lampooned for supporting Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and criticized for the company's most recent earnings report that saw GE profits fall 6 percent from the same quarter a year earlier.
But mostly, he was beaten up by retirees.
One by one they came forward during a question-and-answer period that was more questions than answers.
Many thanked him for a one-time pension increase that came late in 2007. But most, including a number of local retirees, pressed GE to contribute to funding their pensions and pressed him to institute an annual cost-of-living increase.
Ron Flowers, president of the local Retirees Association General Electric, or R.A.G.E, was among those to take a turn at the microphone.
"The people you see here rolled up their sleeves and did the job," Flowers told Immelt. "They deserve an annual increase in their pension."
More than 100 pickets outside the convention center, many of them from out of state, echoed the same theme. Don Glenn, a retiree, from a GE appliance plant in Louisville, Ky., said he stands sentry outside GE's annual meeting almost every year.
Helen Quirini, a GE retiree from Schenectady, N.Y., and a veteran picket herself, offered Wednesday to strike a deal with Immelt, who called her by name when she stepped to the microphone.
Quirini, who spoke on behalf of a shareholder proposal to separate the jobs of chairman and CEO, promised Immelt she would leave him alone if he addressed that issue and gave retirees their requested COLA.
"If this can happen, I will not hold another rally," she said. "I am tired of walking in front of the company."
Immelt greeted all of the questions, proposals and comments politely, but urged many of them to hurry it along, saying, "OK, we get it."
He had some things of his own to say and a lot of disappointed investors to address.
"We had a tough first quarter of 2008, below last year and our own expectations," Immelt said. "While our industrial earnings grew 26 percent, our financial services earnings declined by 28 percent. ...
"We are disappointed that we will not hit our 10 percent earnings growth goal, particularly after we said we could."
At the same time, however, Immelt urged investors to look at the bigger picture.
"Our infrastructure grew 17 percent in the quarter. Our global growth was 22 percent in the quarter," Immelt said. "GE earned more money than any company in the world, except Exxon Mobile. In a very tough economy, our first quarter earnings were $4.4 billion. This company is very strong."
GE shares traded at more than $42 per share when Immelt took over in 2001, but closed Wednesday at $32.36, up 3 cents.
The focus might have been on pensions and corporate performance Wednesday. But Immelt, who was seated in front of a full-sized shell of a hybrid locomotive, wasn't going to let anyone forget they were in Erie.
He reminded them when the annual meeting was last held here the company's share of the global locomotive market was 30 percent. Today, it's 75 percent.
"GE has built a successful business in your town," he said. "But there is another reason this business is thriving that you may want to think about this year. That is globalization. We have 5,100 employees in Erie. The amount of engineers here has tripled since 2005, while the manufacturing headcount has increased 10 percent. All this while the U.S. economy has slowed."
JIM MARTIN can be reached at (814) 724-6397, 870-1668 or by e-mail.
How Erie stacked up
The following number of registration forms were returned for the past four shareholders meetings of the General Electric Co.
                        Erie, 2008         Greenville, S.C., 2007     Philadelphia, 2006          Cincinnati, 2005
Total                 1,907                1,017                            1,632                            1,950
Out of state       559                   585                               680                               623
Source: General Electric Co.
GE chief talks shop
Q Why did you choose Erie for this year's meeting?
A We always like to be in a GE town. We rotate it every year and it has been since the 1990s since we had been in Erie. We like the team, we like the town. It's been good to us and we just thought this would be a nice place to come this year.
Q What has the reaction been?
A You always get a mixture of people, here in this town in particular. We have so many retirees who will be here today. They like the company and they are proud of the business. And you have people who are pensioners who are here. They want pension increases and things. You have special interest groups here. They will want changes in governance. You have investors here, and they will want the stock price to go up. Everybody represented will be in a room. It's corporate democracy at work and that's the way it should be.
Q We understand this was a business you wanted to highlight. At a time that companies are outsourcing and moving business offshore -- GE included -- this unionized business in Erie is doing well.
A It really is, because we have invested in technology. And have aggressively sold our product in every corner of the world. The union and management have worked very well together to work on lean manufacturing and things like that. ... But by all rights, this 100-year-old business and this 100-year-old factory shouldn't be here anymore. Yet the combination of good technology and globalization has really helped us.
Q How do you feel about the future of this business. Is it ever going to go away?
A I think the fundamentals are very robust. In many ways, this business benefits from globalization. Globalization, although it scares people, is a big reason why the locomotive business is going to be very strong.
Q So in your mind, globalization doesn't mean we can't build these things in Erie, Pennsylvania?
A Not at all. Look, I don't run a charity. I run a very competitive global enterprise. The fact of the matter is this plant and this location makes the highest quality, lowest cost locomotives in the world. That is a good thing. We have worked our ass off to make that happen. It doesn't happen by accident.
Q John Rice, Charlene Begley and a lot of other top GE managers have come out of Erie. This has been called a breeding ground for GE management. Is that part of a philosophy or is it happenstance?
A I think a little of both. A leader can cut their teeth and get a little bit of union, a little bit of global and a little bit of technology, all in the context of a business where we have a very strong competitive position.
I don't want (Erie) to be known for just that (being a training ground). I think it's important that leaders come and stay here so they can change the place strategically. That takes time.
Q Do you think Wall Street as a whole and some analysts overreacted a bit to your most recent earnings report or was this a wakeup call?
A There will be disappointment anytime you miss your estimates. In many ways, we deserve what we got.
I also think it's time to take a step back and say we earned more money than anybody in the world last year except Exxon. We earned $4.5 billion in the last quarter, our revenues were up 22 percent. This company has a lot of strength. I am going to fix what happened. I don't accept it and I think investors have every right to be disappointed in us. By the same token, we are going to stay the course strategically. I think we have the right team and the right strategy.
Q Any plans to go hunting with Jack Welch (the former CEO who commented recently that if he had a gun he would shoot Immelt)?
A Not soon.
Q Some believe GE is too big. Would you consider selling NBC or other GE businesses?
A I always tell people to name one company in the last five or six years that has disposed of $50 or $60 billion worth of business. We have been very aggressive job from a portfolio standpoint. ... We are going to continue to do that.
I am pretty tough-minded about the business. Nothing is forever, but right now I don't see anybody that can run NBC any better than we can run it. It generates a lot of cash for the company and gets good returns. I think we stay for right now.
-- Jim Martin