GE grows into the world’s biggest landlord
GE began acquiring real estate in earnest in the 1990s at the suggestion of its commercial lenders. It has acquired so much that it now derives 10% of its earnings from property. Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s chairman and chief executive, has an unexpected problem: if he does not want GE to be cast as a property company, he may need some nimble balance sheet management. Michael Pralle, GE Real Estate’s CEO, tells Peter Lee how it feels to own so much.
GE, the iconic jet-engines-to-medical-imaging conglomerate, has created, almost by accident, one of the world’s fastest-growing and most profitable real estate companies. What is it supposed to do with it now?
It used to be said of St John’s College, Oxford, as a way of decrying its excessive wealth and influence, that a student could walk the 70-odd miles from Oxford to Cambridge without ever stepping off land the college owned.
GE’s portfolio is not quite so concentrated or contiguous but today’s jet-setting executive could easily pass a large part of his month without ever setting foot off GE property. Whether emerging from his or her corporate head office in New York, Paris, Stockholm or London, flying to meetings in Tokyo, IT business parks in Mumbai, or industrial developments in China, returning west to review retail businesses in Sofia or Warsaw, then to meetings in Barcelona with the government authorities of Catalonia, thence to Washington DC to continue lobbying there, before easing back for some rest and recuperation at a luxury hotel in Palm Desert, California, the only time our executive might be outside property owned or funded by GE is while in the air – and even then the plane is likely to be fitted with GE engines.