He sold top business minds on a TV show that promised to save the world – and make them famous. They handed over thousands. Then reality set in. He spent his last decade as one of the most divisive figures in U.S. business, the subject of one of the most contentious episodes in the recent history of CNBC.
He sold to CNBC, which was then owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal empire. The sale closed in December 2007, when he retired from his role as chairman and CEO of General Electric.
The sale was confirmed by The Wall Street Journal, which obtained an email showing how he convinced CNBC’s parent company, which is now called NBC, to pay a $1 billion cash dividend. A CNBC spokesman declined to comment on what GE had told The Wall Street Journal about the offer.
GE, which has since spun off its aviation, defense and health care divisions, reported in 2017 its third-quarter earnings that exceeded analyst projections – its first such profit in two years.
But it was not without its headwinds. It was buffeted by the worst global recession since the Great Depression, which caused its revenues to plummet and sent profits plunging. GE cut more than 3,000 jobs and slashed spending and dividends.
It filed for bankruptcy and sold some businesses in an effort to restructure itself, with the expectation, at least it believed, that it could recover.
Over the years the company has gone through a variety of owners and CEOs: GE merged with Whirlpool in 1999, sold it to private equity firm TPG in 2005, then bought it back from TPG in 2007 for $13.9 billion. GE said then it would not take the cash.
The deal fell apart and GE and TPG split it in half; the sale to Comcast in which GE retained the shares the former GE shareholders had exchanged for the shares in the merger fell apart, too.
It took a year for GE to accept that it could not survive without CNBC.
In his 2012 biography of Clayton, Clayton, an author of the same name who penned “Thinking Like a Business,” referred to GE as a “great company.” But, he wrote, “its business would not be the same.”
Clayton never forgot Clayton’s disappointment. He said it in 2007 and again in January, 2014, when he spoke at a CNBC panel on “How Not To Be A Stakeholder.”