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GE Is Finally Trading Its Bankers’ Stripes for a Hard Hat

With the $30 billion sale of the largest remaining business of once-dominant GE Capital, the company bets that green power generation and aviation will be more financially stable.

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Despite its storied history as an industrial icon founded by Thomas Edison, General Electric Co. by a decade ago had morphed into a massive financial-services company bigger than all but a handful of U.S. banks. That transformation brought with it a maddeningly complex web of businesses, opaque accounting, and financial risk that dogged it for years. So when Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp on March 10 announced a $30 billion deal to unload GE’s aircraft-leasing business, the move returned something long absent from GE: simplicity.

Jet lessor GE Capital Aviation Services, or Gecas, was the biggest remaining business of GE Capital, the once-sprawling financial-services company that in 2010 had more than $600 billion in assets. After the unit’s sale to Irish rival AerCap Holdings NV closes a year from now, GE plans to transfer what it says are just $21 billion in remaining GE Capital assets onto its industrial balance sheet. It will also stop reporting results for GE’s financial-services, industrial, and combined businesses separately, streamlining the complex financial reports that fueled criticism that trouble could—and sometimes did—lurk for years in those accounting statements before revealing itself.