The world has entered "a new economic era" that will be more volatile and more dependent on the growth of emerging economies, General Electric Co Chief Executive Jeff Immelt said in a letter to shareholders.
The largest U.S. conglomerate plans to continue to pursue acquisitions and aims to generate $20 billion in revenue from new businesses as it enters this new era, said Immelt, who this year marks a decade at the helm of GE.
"We see signs of economic strength every day. It doesn't always 'feel great,' because we have entered a new economic era," the CEO wrote in his annual letter to shareholders. "Volatility has become a way of life ... Classic economic cycles will be shorter and more segmented."
Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE, which had been severely tested by the financial crisis, resumed growing profit last year and twice raised its dividend, and in January its shares rose above $20 for the first time since the fall of 2008.
Looking ahead, Immelt wrote that faster-growing economies including Brazil and India will be key sources of demand, while developed economies, such as those of the United States and Europe, remain sluggish.
The company, which reached $8 billion of takeover deals in the last six months, plans to continue to look for targets in its core businesses, now defined as infrastructure equipment and financial services since GE sold a majority stake in its NBC Universal media business to Comcast Corp.
'TOUGHEST YEARS OF MY LIFE'
Immelt, who had to take steps including selling $3 billion of preferred shares to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc and slashing dividends during the downturn, said the financial crisis was a personal low point.
"The toughest years of my life were 2008 and 2009. They were difficult for the company, investors and the economy," Immelt wrote. "Being a CEO can be pretty humbling. I have made a few mistakes and learned a lot over the last decade."
GE changed its approach to management since the crisis, moving more top brass out of the United States -- most notably transferring Vice Chairman John Rice to Hong Kong, a move intended to allow him to make big decisions about GE's Asian businesses more quickly.
It has also rethought the career paths of lower-level executives, expecting them to spend longer periods in individual jobs and business units, to encourage them to develop deeper, more specialized knowledge.
Faced with surging prices of oil, copper and other commodities, Immelt said inflation had emerged as one of the company's top worries.
"We worry about inflation and have increased resources on material productivity and pricing to offset that threat," he wrote.
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