Picture: REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER
Picture: REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER

New York — General Electric hired shipping executive Carolina Dybeck Happe as its next chief financial officer, giving top boss Larry Culp a new partner to help tackle one of the trickiest turnaround efforts in corporate America.

Dybeck Happe, who has served as finance chief at AP Moller-Maersk since January, will replace Jamie Miller in early 2020, GE said in a statement on Monday. The incoming executive will oversee GE’s global finance organisation and activities including accounting, tax planning and internal auditing.

“She really understands how to put capital to work, how to manage balance sheets,” Culp said in an interview. “In addition, she is an operator.”

The move answers a question that has hung over GE since July, when Culp said he would seek a new No 2 to help him turn the company’s fortunes around. Dybeck Happe, 47, will face major challenges from day one, including strained cash flow, a balance sheet weighed down by debt and federal investigations of GE’s accounting.

Culp said he considered both internal and external candidates as part of a “rigorous global search”.

GE climbed 1.1% to $11.68  at midday in New York. The shares surged 59% in 2019 through to November 22, outpacing the broader market as GE partially rebounded from a deep slump.

Dybeck Happe becomes the latest executive to depart Maersk as the world’s biggest container shipping company grapples with a tough market amid a global trade war. The company lost its chief operating officer two weeks ago.

Prior to joining Maersk, Dybeck Happe spent 16 years at door-lock manufacturer Assa Abloy, including seven years as CFO. She is also on the boards of energy supplier E.ON and power-products maker Schneider Electric.

GE has already taken steps to flush out and resolve a number of legacy issues, giving investors a clearer sense of direction as the new CFO comes in, said Nicholas Heymann, an analyst at William Blair & Company. “The foundation is starting to be rebuilt for the company.”

Assa Abloy underwent several successful restructurings during Dybeck Happe’s tenure, while also broadening its focus around electronics, Credit Suisse Group analyst John Walsh said in a note. With that track record, and given that GE has already addressed many outstanding liabilities, her selection is “more of an offensive personnel move by GE”, said Walsh, who raised his price target on GE to $11 a share from $10.

Culp, a longtime Danaher Corporation leader who became chief executive officer at GE in 2018, has remade the board, cut costs and sold assets while trying to pull the Boston-based company out of one of the worst slumps in its 127-year history. He said in July that he thought the time was right to change the finance chief.

Miller took the job in 2017 under then-CEO John Flannery and continued to oversee GE’s finances while the company sought a replacement. She will leave the company following the transition, GE said.

During her tenure, Miller had to make tough decisions, including cutting the dividend and taking large writedowns, while also overseeing significant asset sales, RBC Capital Markets analyst Deane Dray said in a note. “We applaud CFO Jamie Miller for capably managing the role through what was arguably the toughest period in the company’s history,” he said.

Bloomberg