When General Electric (GE) - Get General Electric Company (GE) Report stock was sinking in early 2009 as investors questioned the safety of its mammoth lending business, finance chief Keith Sherin led a lengthy and detailed presentation widely credited with restoring their confidence.
Six years later, as the head of GE Capital, Sherin was one of the architects of a game-changing plan to sell most of the business as CEO Jeffrey Immelt refocused the company on its industrial roots with an emphasis on digital manufacturing.
Now, with that plan largely complete, the 57-year-old who began his career with Boston-based GE in 1981, is retiring. His successor, 55-year-old Richard Laxer, will step into the role Sept. 1, and Sherin will remain with the company through Dec. 31. Neither Laxer nor Sherin were immediately available for further comment, a GE spokesman said.
"I thank Keith immensely for his relentless passion to do right by all -- our shareholders, customers and employees," Immelt said in a statement Tuesday. "Keith is a special leader, immensely talented yet humble. In the history of GE, few can match his impact."
Indeed, GE stock has surged 22% to $31.37 since the plan to wind down most of the lending business was disclosed in April 2015, outpacing both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500.
The initiative has already given Immelt greater latitude in capital spending by convincing the government to lift a regulatory designation applied after the financial crisis that subjected GE to stricter scrutiny and tougher liquidity standards.
The "systemically important" label, also applied to major banks and insurers like AIG, was part of attempts by regulators to create safeguards for finance companies large enough to imperil the economy if they failed. It was spurred by fallout from the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008.
GE stock was hit particularly hard during that period, since Lehman's bankruptcy froze the market for commercial paper, a type of short-term security that the company relied on to fund its lending business.
That forced Immelt to cut the dividend for the first time in GE's history, and the manufacturer lost its top-tier credit ratings from Standard & Poor's and Moody's. Its stock plummeted.
In fact, a gain of 19% in March 2009, the month that Sherin led his presentation assuring investors that the business would remain profitable and had sufficient capital to withstand long-term adverse conditions, was its first bounce since the month Lehman failed.
That walk-through, including a number of GE Capital executives, gave detailed operational updates on the lending unit's businesses, from commercial real estate to branded cards and aircraft leasing. In the months since Lehman's bankruptcy, GE Capital had trimmed its leverage, reduced its reliance on commercial paper and planned to pour $9.5 billion from an equity raise into the lending unit, Sherin said at the time.
"We're running GE to be safe and secure in this environment," he said. "We have enough capital to be able to weather a very adverse set of cases that we've put together here."
By the time GE announced its plan to wind down most of the lending business six years afterward, it had become significantly safer -- but also less profitable, Sherin said on a conference call with investors in April 2015.
"Several factors have come together to make this the right time for this strategic change," he explained, noting that GE Capital's reliance on debt to fund consumer loans left it at a disadvantage to banks, which could use deposits that had been rendered extremely cheap by years of low interest rates.
The recent spinoff of the Synchrony (SYF) - Get Synchrony Financial Report credit-card business, which dated to Depression-era efforts to provide financing for GE appliance buyers, had shown "other owners place more value on our platforms than our own investors do as part of GE," he added.
Also, "we see a very attractive market for selling our assets," Sherin said.
His assessment proved prescient, with sales progressing much faster than GE originally predicted.
Earlier this month, GE announced a binding offer for a French mortgage portfolio that took total sales agreements for GE Capital assets to $192 billion, accounting for the vast majority of $200 billion in sales planned through the end of the year.