End of an era as GE brings lights down on its bulbs business

Sale of consumer operations arm cuts one of its last remaining links with founder Thomas Edison

(FILES) In this file photo packages of General Electric light bulbs are displayed on a hardware store shelf July 17, 2009 in San Rafael, California.  General Electric is getting out of the light bulb business, shedding a foundational enterprise from the days of Thomas Edison, the company announced May 27, 2020. The 128-year-old company, in belt-tightening mode following a hit from the coronavirus, will divest GE Lighting to smart home company Savant Systems. 
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General Electric cut one of the last remaining links to founder Thomas Edison, as the beleaguered manufacturer wrapped up a three-year process to sell its iconic lightbulb business.

Automation-products company Savant Systems will acquire GE’s consumer operations, including lighting and smart-home goods, and bring on the business’s more than 700 employees, the companies said in a statement. They didn’t disclose terms of the deal, which is expected to close later this year.

While lighting has become a minor part of GE’s operations, the sale is symbolic for a company that has shed elements of its past as it grappled with dwindling cash and slowing demand. GE in recent years sold a century-old locomotive unit and backed away from some health-care and oil businesses.

The lighting unit’s sale is an “important step in the transformation of GE into a more focused industrial company", chief executive Larry Culp said in the statement.

GE will now effectively cease to be a consumer-facing company, focusing primarily on making jet engines and power-generation equipment. The Boston-based manufacturer sold its home-appliances operations in 2016, though the GE Appliances brand name remains in use. Savant also will gain a "long-term licensing agreement" to use the GE brand.

The shares climbed 6.9 per cent to $7.28 at 2:29 am. in New York. GE had dropped 39 per cent this year through Tuesday, while the S&P 500 slid 7.4 per cent.

Lightbulbs have been central to GE’s identity since its founding. The business traces its roots to 1879, when Edison created the first practical commercial incandescent lamp. His interests around lights and related technologies served as precursors to GE, which was formed in 1892.

The company struggled in recent years to adapt to a market upended by government efforts to phase out traditional bulbs in favor of energy-efficient options such as light-emitting diode technology. GE pointed to regulations when it decided in 2010 to close a factory in Virginia that was its last US plant making tungsten-filament incandescent bulbs.

Former CEO Jeffrey Immelt had considered selling GE’s appliances and lighting units more than a decade ago but halted the plans because of the financial crisis.

In 2015, he separated certain energy-related operations, including commercial LEDs, into a new division called Current, while leaving GE Lighting focused on consumer bulbs and connected-home products.

GE officially put the lighting business on the market in mid-2017, and dismantled the operations piecemeal over the following years. It sold some overseas and automotive lighting operations in early 2018 and reached a deal later that year to unload Current.