The new head of the General Electric Co. announced plans today to make GE "a major producer" of robots and other automation systems in an effort to tap the expected market from the reindustrialization of America.
Newly installed Chairman John F. Welch said the firm also will begin an intensive effort to improve the quality of all its products over the next decade, and ultimately "will get out of any areas where we can't be best."
Although Welch declined to provide more details, his remarks, delivered at the company's annual stockholders meeting here, provided first hints of the new managements thrust following the retirement of Welch's predecessor, Reginald H. Jones.
Welch told the stockholders he believes that "a big profitable market for productivity is emerging here and abroad," in the face of America's push for massive new investment in plants and equipment.
He said by moving rapidly into production of robots and other automation equipment, GE managers hope to make the giant congolmerate "a supermarket of automation systems" for the reindustrialization of America.
Welch's best-or-bust quality improvement campaign appeared to mark an effort to fine-tune the diversification led by his predecessor, who pushed GE during the 1970s into a variety of new businesses.
Once primarily a manufacturer of electrical equipment, GE today operates 43 separate divisions involving aerospace, man-made materials, transportation and natural resources.
Welch's associates say the new chief executive officer has decided to eschew Jones' long-time position as a spokesman for corporate America, preferring instead to concentrate entirely on running GE.Welch, 47, succeeded Jones on April 1.
The new chairman's public debut yesterday capped an uneventful meeting in which stockholders overwhelmingly defeated mild resolutions by two antinuclear groups that would have required the company to restudy its role in producing nuclear weapons and power plants. The dissenters had contended that GE's insistence on continuing to produce nuclear power reactors was financially unsound, since that venture has suffered loses in recent years as a result of delays in approval of new power plants.
They also expressed concern about possible safety hazards and waste disposal problems.
Welch also declined to comment further on a new Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, which charges that GE reactors may pose serious safety problems affecting their cooling systems. The company tuesday denounced the NRC report as unfair.
However, most of the stockholders brushed off the floor protests. The resolutions, although both mild, were defeated by votes of 97 percent and 98 percent.
GE had already disclosed that its 1980 net earnings amounted to $1.5 billion ($6.65 a share), up 7 1/2 percent from its 1979 net income of $1.4 billion ($6.20). Dividends last year were $2.95 a share, up from $2.75 in 1979.
GE announced earlier this month that its first-quarter earnings this year totaled $359 million, an increase of 5 percent over the same period in 1980, largely because of a lower effective tax rate. The company has almost $2 billion in available cash.