General Electric (NYSE:GE)
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6 Months : From Aug 2019 to Feb 2020
By Nina Trentmann and Costas Paris
Swedish finance executive Carolina Dybeck Happe, who on Monday was named as General Electric Co.'s incoming finance chief, is relatively unknown to U.S. investors.
Analysts say, however, that she has the background GE Chief Executive Larry Culp was looking for as he seeks to remake the industrial conglomerate.
Ms. Dybeck Happe, the current CFO of Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller Maersk A/S, has managed large, global finance teams in a conglomerate structure. She has been a cost manager who has helped guide corporate transformation and has developed a reputation as a nimble communicator with investors.
She's also an outsider, much like Mr. Culp, who took over the top role at GE in the fall of 2018. That could mean new viewpoints for the Boston-based company when Ms. Dybeck Happe joins GE next year.
"What GE investors are looking for is someone who ticks all the boxes, which I think she does," said Nigel Coe, a managing director at research firm Wolfe Research LLC.
Perhaps her strongest foundation block was developed at Assa Abloy AB, a Stockholm-based manufacturer of locks and provider of entrance systems, where Ms. Dybeck Happe's acumen was honed running the finances of a large international company.
Assa Abloy's strong focus on expanding into new markets -- and the fact that the U.S. is one of its most important geographies -- provide her with the international insight needed to manage GE's global finance operation, Mr. Coe said.
During her time as Assa Abloy's regional CFO in London and Berlin -- and more than six years as the group CFO -- Ms. Dybeck Happe took on the company's strong focus on cost, another skill that should be useful in her new role at GE, which has been trying to cut costs under Mr. Culp. She also gained operational experience and learned how to manage growth, according to analysts.
Her departure leaves a new gap at Maersk, which has seen two of its most senior leaders depart in less than two weeks, following the resignation of Chief Operating Officer Søren Toft this month to become chief executive of Mediterranean Shipping Co.
At Copenhagen-based Maersk, which she joined in January, she was involved with managing the company's transformation toward a streamlined, more focused company, which involved shedding assets and simplifying its structures, said Casper Blom, an analyst at investment bank ABG Sundal Collier.
Ms. Dybeck Happe helped emphasize the company's focus on capital discipline and lowered its targets for capital expenditures, which marked an important shift in how Maersk communicated with its investors, said Johan Eliason, a senior analyst at financial services company Kepler Cheuvreux SA.
She also worked to cut spending for more ships at Maersk as the company shifted its investment focus toward warehousing space and customs clearing houses.
"She's got an offer she couldn't resist both in terms of salary and other benefits," a person with knowledge of the matter said. "She is a fiercely independent and disciplined executive who speaks her mind and is going to be missed at Maersk."
The person described the departure of two senior executives within a short period as a shock and an unfortunate coincidence.
GE and Maersk had differing accounts of when Ms. Dybeck Happe would move to the U.S. company. GE said she would join in early 2020. Maersk in its statement announcing her departure said she could leave as late as November 2020. A person familiar with the matter said she is bound by contract for that time but that she would be released from the contract when Maersk names a replacement as CFO.
Maersk and GE declined to make Ms. Dybeck Happe available for an interview. Ms. Dybeck Happe also didn't return messages seeking comment.
Ms. Dybeck Happe serves on the board of two European companies in sectors relevant to GE: German utility E. ON SE and French energy management and automation company Schneider Electric SE.
And as an outsider to GE, Ms. Dybeck Happe might be more inclined to enforce significant changes than Jamie Miller, who had served as GE's chief information officer, controller and chief accounting officer before she climbed to the CFO role. Ms. Miller will leave GE after the transition.
Ms. Dybeck Happe also is the second female leading GE's finances, underscoring Mr. Culp's push for a diverse leadership team that prioritizes sustainable management practices, said Nicholas Heymann, co-head of the global industrial infrastructure division at William Blair & Co.
Having spent the majority of her career in Europe -- Ms. Dybeck Happe in the 1990s also worked short stints in Moscow and in Santa Barbara, Calif. -- she could use that experience to challenge existing views and practices in the company, analysts said.
"Whenever you move firms, you are an outsider and have to establish yourself," said Mr. Coe. "There is widespread recognition that change is needed at GE."
Write to Nina Trentmann at Nina.Trentmann@wsj.com and Costas Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 25, 2019 14:50 ET (19:50 GMT)
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