By Maria Saporta
GE’s new CEO John Flannery has announced that three top executives will be leaving the company, including longtime Atlantan John Rice, who has served as a vice chairman in charge of the company’s international business efforts.
Rice, 60, has been with GE for 39 years, and he will be retiring from the company at the end of the year. Rice was a leading member of the management team of GE’s former CEO Jeff Immelt, who stepped down on Aug. 1.
Before heading up GE’s Global Growth Organization (GGO) from a base in Hong Kong, Rice had been GE’s top executive in Atlanta. Rice served in several roles when he was in Atlanta, including as president and CEO of GE Technology Infrastructure, GE Industrial, GE Infrastructure, GE Energy and GE Power Systems.
While in Atlanta, Rice became deeply involved in the community, serving as chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. He also devoted much of his non-GE time to improving public education in the Atlanta region.
In an internal communication to GE employees, Rice said: “After almost 40 years, it’s time. GE is moving into a new phase of its continuing, 125-year-old journey to renew, revitalize, and position for the future.
“The company has some immediate cost challenges, but we will get through them and come out stronger and more competitive,” Rice continued. “We have been working in the past few months to resize GGO for this new reality, and in doing so it became obvious to me that the organization going forward should not include me.”
Rice did acknowledge that the move made him sad because he would be leaving thousands of friends and colleagues he had worked with over may years.
”But I’m also realistic,” Rice said. “Great corporations are built to outlast even their most ‘experienced’ employees, and GE is no different. This is the way it should be. I will be here through the end of the year, and plan to make the most of every hour I have to support you on the mission to make this company succeed in every country we do business in.”
Rice is one of three departing GE vice chairmen. The other two are Jeff Bornstein, GE’s chief financial officer; and Beth Cornstock, who has headed GE’s marketing efforts. All three were part of Immelt’s leadership team, and Immelt announced earlier this month that he was relinquishing his chairman title – three months earlier than planned. All these changes will give Flannery an opportunity to put his own people into executive positions.
As for Rice, he always continued his Atlanta ties, even when living in Hong Kong. He kept his home in Atlanta, and he reportedly moved back here permanently several months ago. Given the change of leadership at GE’s helm, Rice’s retirement move has not been a total surprise.
In September, Rice accompanied Immelt at the “Crime is Toast” breakfast, a fundraiser for the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Rice did not respond to an email requesting his thoughts about GE’s leadership changes and his plans for the future.
In an internal company email, GE’s Flannery generously thanked Rice for his service to GE, and he credited Rice’s leadership for purchasing Enron Wind out of bankruptcy for $250 million in 2002. Today Flannery said that business has approximately $8 billion in revenues.
“John’s leadership of the GGO has delivered pivotal change for our company,” Flannery’s statement read. “Our global revenues today are approximately 60 percent of the total company revenues. John has more than doubled GE’s global footprint from 92 countries in 2010 to more than 180 today…”
Meanwhile, despite all the of GE’s structural changes, the company’s presence in Atlanta seems secure.
Russell Stokes, president and CEO of GE Power, is the highest-ranking company executive in Atlanta. He currently is running GE’s largest industrial division out of Atlanta.
Stokes also is playing an active role in the Atlanta business community, following Rice’s footsteps. He will chair the Metro Atlanta Chamber in 2018. Stokes also serves on the high-powered Atlanta Committee for Progress; on Usher’s New Look board; on the executive committee of Junior Achievement of Georgia; and on the board of the Commerce Club.
Also, Atlanta is the new headquarters of GE Digital, and it is the home of Jim Fowler, GE’s chief information officer. Although Atlanta did not win the highly-publicized corporate headquarters move (GE chose to move to Boston), it continues to be a major base for the company. Coincidentally, GE has scaled back its corporate relocation plans to Boston because of its current business challenges.