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How GE’s Larry Culp split the empire Jack Welch built

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November 10, 2021

By Anirban Sen and Rajesh Kumar Singh

(Reuters) – It was the break-up that eluded a generation of General Electric Co insiders.

When Larry Culp, the first GE chief executive not to rise from within its ranks, convened a board meeting earlier this month to greenlight the split of the industrial conglomerate into three companies, he secured its backing.

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It was a far cry from board meetings held in the 1980s and 1990s by one of Culp’s predecessors, Jack Welch. The iconic entrepreneur got the GE board to back his moves in the opposite direction, getting GE into businesses as diverse as mortgages, credit cards and television entertainment and prompting the Federal Reserve to characterize the company as too big to fail.

Welch’s successors, Jeff Immelt and John Flannery, gradually sold of many of GE’s businesses to boost the company’s ailing share price in the two decades that followed.

But it was Culp who managed to push through the ultimate untangling of GE, with a plan to break it up into three companies to house its healthcare, aviation and power businesses separately.

Culp, 58, became GE’s CEO in October 2018 after joining it as a board director six months earlier. He started discussing the idea of a break-up with GE’s board a year ago, according to a person familiar with the matter, but discussions intensified in the last six months as the plan he put together took shape.

“With the progress on the deleveraging, the progress with our operational transformation, the pandemic lifting … there’s no reason to wait a day,” Culp told Reuters in an interview. “It’s the right thing to do.”

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The idea to spin off healthcare was not new – Flannery had floated it publicly in 2018, but never got to see it through. Financial woes at GE’s power business escalated into a crisis that caused the company to miss many profit targets and cost Flannery his job.

In the weeks that followed his appointment, Culp, a former CEO of industrial conglomerate Danaher Corp, undertook a top-to-bottom review of GE’s sprawling businesses and numerous profit-and-loss lines, people familiar with the matter said. Analysts and investors lauded him for improving GE’s profitability.

Culp decided at the time that the healthcare business, a pre-eminent supplier of medical equipment and instrumentation, was too important of a cash cow, while GE’s other two businesses were still not self-sufficient for the break-up to happen, one of the sources said.

READY FOR BREAK-UP

Still, Culp wanted to pursue the idea, and pruned GE through other deals in the mean time. These included a $30 billion merger of GE’s jet-leasing unit with Ireland’s AerCap, and the $21-billion sale of the biopharma business to Danaher.

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Now, GE’s troubled power business is finally turning a profit. The company’s renewable energy business has also been able to improve its cost structure and be in a position to capitalise on the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“We can spin healthcare, we can do that first. That business is clearly performing well. We have some preparations on the shelf from the (abandoned) IPO a few years ago,” Culp told Reuters.

“We’ve talked about some of the work we still need to do in renewables … but we’ll really be ready for this next step in early 2024.”

Hedge fund Trian Fund Management, an ally of Culp on GE’s board, lauded the latest moves, stating it “enthusiastically supports this important step in the transformation of GE.”

To be sure, Culp’s tenure at GE has not been without criticism.

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Earlier this year, GE shareholders rejected a payout for Culp of as much as $230 million in a non-binding vote.

Proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services Inc and Glass Lewis, which opposed the pay packages, argued that GE had lowered the bar on Culp’s performance targets during the COVID-19 pandemic and that his stock award was too generous.

GE countered that the payout was necessary to incentivise Culp.

(Reporting by Anirban Sen in Bengaluru and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and Kenneth Maxwell)

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Amazon asks India antitrust body to revoke Reliance-Future deal approval

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November 28, 2021

By Aditya Kalra and Abhirup Roy

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Amazon has asked India’s antitrust regulator to revoke its approval for Future Retail’s $3.4 billion sale of retail assets to Reliance, saying it was “illegally obtained”, violating an order suspending the deal, a letter seen by Reuters shows.

The approval for the deal was a “nullity in the eyes of law” as an arbitrator’s order was still in force, according to the letter sent by Amazon.com Inc to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) last week.

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The battle between two of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Reliance Industries Ltd boss Mukesh Ambani, marks a contest for preeminence in India’s booming, nearly trillion-dollar retail market.

The winner in the fight for Future Retail Ltd, India’s second-largest retailer and Amazon’s estranged local partner, will get pole position in the race to meet the daily needs of more than a billion people.

The CCI, Amazon, Future Group and Reliance did not respond to requests for comment.

Future has said the arbitrator’s suspension order was invalid but Indian courts have declined to overturn it.

If the regulator agrees with the previously unreported letter, it would be a major setback for oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance.

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Amazon won an injunction against the deal from a Singapore arbitrator last year, alleging Future had violated contracts that prevented it from selling the assets to entities including Reliance.

But the CCI later cleared the deal.

Future misled the CCI and continued to seek approval for the deal, Amazon said in the letter dated Wednesday, calling the injunction a “brazen attempt to subvert the rule of law”.

Amazon asked for a personal hearing from the CCI to make its case.

The letter comes as Amazon is also battling allegations that it misrepresented facts and concealed information while seeking antitrust clearance for a 2019 deal with Future Group.

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Amazon has so far successfully used this deal’s contracts to block Future’s deal with Reliance.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Abhirup Roy in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by William Mallard)

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Exclusive-Visa complains to U.S. govt about India backing for local rival RuPay

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November 28, 2021

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Visa Inc has complained to the U.S. government that India’s “informal and formal” promotion of domestic payments rival RuPay hurts the U.S. giant in a key market, memos seen by Reuters show.

In public Visa has downplayed concerns about the rise of RuPay, which has been supported by public lobbying from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has included likening the use of local cards to national service.

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But U.S. government memos show Visa raised concerns about a “level playing field” in India during an Aug. 9 meeting between U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai and company executives, including CEO Alfred Kelly.

Mastercard Inc has raised similar concerns privately with the USTR. Reuters reported in 2018 that the company had lodged a protest https://reut.rs/3cQA2La with the USTR that Modi was using nationalism to promote the local network.

“Visa remains concerned about India’s informal and formal policies that appear to favour the business of National Payments Corporation of India” (NPCI), the non-profit that runs RuPay, “over other domestic and foreign electronic payments companies,” said a USTR memo prepared for Tai ahead of the meeting.

Visa, USTR, Modi’s office and the NPCI did not respond to requests for comment.

Modi has promoted homegrown RuPay for years, posing a challenge to Visa and Mastercard in the fast-growing payments market. RuPay accounted for 63% of India’s 952 million debit and credit cards as of November 2020, according to the most recent regulatory data on the company, up from just 15% in 2017.

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Publicly, Kelly said in May that for years there was “a lot of concern” that the likes of RuPay could be “potentially problematic” for Visa, but he stressed that his company remained India’s market leader.

“That’s going to be something we’re going to continually deal with and have dealt with for years. So there’s nothing new there,” he told an industry event.

‘NOT SO SUBTLE PRESSURE’

Modi, in a 2018 speech, portrayed the use of RuPay as patriotic, saying that since “everyone cannot go to the border to protect the country, we can use RuPay card to serve the nation.”

When Visa raised its concerns during the USTR gathering on Aug. 9, it cited the Indian leader’s “speech where he basically called on India to use RuPay as a show of service to the country,” according to an email U.S. officials exchanged on the meeting’s readout.

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said last year that “RuPay is the only card” banks should promote. The government has also promoted a RuPay-based card for public transportation payments.

While RuPay dominates the number of cards in India, most transactions still go through Visa and Mastercard as most RuPay cards were simply issued by banks under Modi’s financial inclusion programme, industry sources say.

Visa told the U.S. government it was concerned India’s “push to use transit cards linked to RuPay” and “the not so subtle pressure on banks to issue” RuPay cards, the USTR email showed.

Mastercard and Visa count India as a key growth market, but have been jolted by a 2018 central bank directive for them to store payments data “only in India” for “unfettered supervisory access”.

Mastercard faces an indefinite ban on issuing new cards in India after the central bank said it was not complying with the 2018 rules. A USTR official privately called the Mastercard ban “draconian”, Reuters reported in September.

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(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by William Mallard)

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‘Flash mob’ thieves target U.S. retail stores on Black Friday

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November 28, 2021

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Black Friday shoppers weren’t the only ones out hunting for bargains on the day after Thanksgiving. Thieves were busy as well.

Police in Los Angeles and cities elsewhere across the country spent much of their holiday weekend patrols looking for suspects in a spate of “flash mob” robberies on Friday, part of a surging U.S. crime trend in which groups of thieves swarm a store, ransack the shelves and flee.

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Authorities also have used the term “smash-and-grab” to describe the trend.

At least two such robberies were reported on Saturday by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A local television station, KCAL-TV, counted a total of six smash-and-grab heists on the city’s west side alone on Friday.

In one incident, a group of eight men entered a Home Depot outlet at a shopping mall in Lakewood, south of downtown Los Angeles, walked directly to the tool aisle and snatched a bunch of hammers, sledgehammers and crowbars valued at about $400 before making their getaway, the sheriff’s office said.

According to L.A. television station KTTV, the Home Depot robbery on Friday night involved up to 20 suspects who pulled up to the store in as many as 10 cars and donned ski masks before raiding the tool aisle.

“We tried to stop them,” store employee Luis Romo told KTTV. “We closed the front entrance, and they put their sledgehammers up and whoever got in the way, they were going to hurt them.”

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The Los Angeles City News Service said four suspects in that robbery were arrested on Saturday by Beverly Hills police.

In a similar incident Friday afternoon, a group of 10 men or more invaded a store in the city’s Fairfax district and started grabbing merchandise without paying for it, pushing employees out of the way before fleeing the scene, according to LAPD.

Police are investigating possible ties between that incident and a flurry of other robberies and retail thefts on Friday and earlier in the week, including two smash-and-grabs reported on Wednesday, an LAPD spokesperson said.

The rash of retail crime prompted the LAPD to place its officers on a citywide tactical alert on Friday afternoon.

Mass robberies also were reported on Friday at two Best Buy electronics stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, one of them involving as many as 30 suspects, while a spree of pre-dawn retail burglaries were under investigation in Chicago.

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In one of the biggest flash-mob robberies reported on the West Coast in recent days, police in the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek were seeking about 80 suspects who swarmed and ransacked a department store last Saturday.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Simao)

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