This month we asked Yahoo Finance readers — a savvy group of people who closely follow the market and business world — who they thought was the worst company of 2017. It would be a tough battle to the bottom: after all, this year Equifax (EFX) acknowledged hackers stole personal data on 145 million Americans, more bad behavior came from Wells Fargo (WFC), and Uber had two of the wildest quarters in terms of unrelated scandals in memory.
One company, however, snuck up on all the others to take the title: General Electric, a 125-year-old blue chip, garnered the most complaints from readers.
GE had a rough one
More than 2,400 readers responded to our survey. Here are the companies that had a significant consensus of contempt. Percentages signify what percentage of respondents picked that company as the worst.
General Electric (GE) 25.9%
Equifax (EFX) 6.5% (about a dozen readers thought Experian was the worst, but listed Equifax’s misdeeds.)
Sears (SHLD) 3.9%
Wells Fargo (WFC) 2.5%
Comcast (CMCSA) 2.5%
Under Armour (UAA) 1.4%
Other runners up with a solid number of haters: Facebook, Frontier, Teva, Tesla, and various permutations of The Trump Organization.
Truly, GE “won” by a truly shocking number – nearly 26% of respondents said GE was the worst offender. The next seven-worst combined still do not equal the number of people who called out GE. Boston-based GE may not actually be most hated company in the U.S., or even the worst performing, but it has an enormous market cap of $150 billion and has been a popular stock to own for over a century. GE began when all of Thomas Edison’s electric companies emerged, but has morphed into the textbook definition of a conglomerate. It has been a player in aviation, energy, finance, fossil fuels, weapons, software, healthcare, and more. That size, history, and influence means that more people might rely on it than other stocks, something that — if this survey is anything to go by — stirs up strong feelings.
To wit, the reason people hated GE so much mostly came down to its stock’s abysmal performance, which shows how widely held it is among retail investors. Compared to the S&P 500, which gained 19% year-to-date, and the Dow, which is up 24%, GE dropped 45% as of Dec. 28. The Dow managed this performance with GE as a component. In fact, GE has been in the Dow since its beginning in 1896, but its recent performance has put its membership in question.
Many readers like Jon from Austin, Texas, blamed leadership of former CEO Jeff Immelt and the board. “They had the worst CEO imaginable and a board that was ineffective in reining that idiot in,” he wrote. A few readers suggested clawbacks – in 2016, Immelt’s pay fell 35%. Still, he got $21.3 million in compensation.
Readers haven’t given up hope
According to 75% of Yahoo Finance readers who identified GE as the worst company of 2017, the company isn’t beyond saving and can pull up on the throttle and get its reputation back as a power player in the market.
The predominant advice? Fire the board, stop trying to do too much, and start making value for its shareholders. Many people framed it in a sort of “Make GE Great Again” way, suggesting a return to more sensible business moves and focusing on core businesses. As one reader put it, GE “LOST ITS WAY” and needs to “CUT ITS LOSERS.”
With Immelt gone and John Flannery as new CEO, outlook is mixed. Some people expressed confidence that Flannery will right the ship, but others don’t see much changing.
“Every acquisition has been a disaster,” said one anonymous respondent. “Who heads the company now? The architect of those acquisitions, John Flannery.”