The company’s roots reach back more than a century, to the laboratories of the storied inventor Thomas A. Edison. G.E. today sells magnetic resonance imaging machines, provides financial and data services, manufactures light bulbs and performs drug research, among myriad other activities.
But as a rule, Wall Street does not like conglomerates. Instead, investors tend to prefer the clarity of companies with simpler product lines and fewer moving parts.
Mr. Immelt had spoken in the past of stepping down this year. But no successor had been formally named, and in recent months, G.E.’s lagging stock performance brought increasing pressure from investors and new urgency to questions about when he might depart.
Those questions were being addressed by the G.E. board on May 13 at a trendy hotel in downtown Manhattan, a location selected in part because it was a place where people seemed unlikely to recognize G.E. board members. There, four contenders for Mr. Immelt’s post lined up and made their case to claim the top job.
G.E. said its succession planning had been in the works for about five years, with a target of this summer. Activity accelerated in the past year, once the leading candidates had gathered wider experience across the company.
The company’s lead independent director, Jack Brennan, said that there had been an “ongoing dialogue” about the timing but that, in the end, everything “happened to marry up with the schedule we had in place,” which Mr. Immelt had agreed…