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一场最匪夷所思的辞职:联合技术公司CEO为何主动求去?

Shawn Tully 2014年11月26日

在路易斯•切尼维特的领导下,联合技术公司一举成为美国最赚钱的大型企业集团。但这位年仅57岁,创下辉煌业绩的CEO日前突然宣布辞职。个中原因究竟是什么?

    这是近期记忆中最令人匪夷所思的高管辞职事件。本周一,即11月24日早上7点,联合技术公司(United Technologies)宣布,57岁的CEO路易斯•切尼维特即将退休。切尼维特从2008年4月开始担任公司CEO。他的接任者将是长期担任公司首席财务官的格雷戈里•海耶斯。

    笔者最近曾经为撰写一篇报道专门采访过切尼维特,他的一切都只能用“大”来形容。他身高6.5英尺(约1.98米),与他握手时你会觉得特别温暖有力。他总是有一些大的想法和极具挑战性的目标。航空航天业历史上规模最大的一笔交易——2010年,联合技术公司斥资163亿美元收购古德里奇公司(Goodrich)——正是出自切尼维特之手。他抓住市场低迷的机会,推动公司以优惠价格收购了这家制动器与起落架制造商。这笔并购交易也使联合技术公司从大型引擎制造商变成一家综合性制造商,提供的产品几乎涵盖大型客机除航空电子设备之外的所有部件。

    此外,在最大的窄体机喷气式发动机市场,切尼维特让联合技术公司重新回归领先地位。切尼维特的助手们经常说,“路易斯的最爱”是齿轮传动式涡轮风扇发动机,这款革命性的发动机可比传统设计节省16%的燃油,并且可将起飞与降落时的噪声降低75%。这款发动机成为新型庞巴迪C系列(Bombardier C-Series)的唯一选择,也是通用电气(GE)一款同类产品的强劲对手。后者是空中客车公司(Airbus)最畅销机型A320-neo的发动机提供商。

    在切尼维特的领导下,联合技术公司一举成为美国最赚钱的大型企业集团。公司去年的总资产现金回收率为11.4%,远远高于通用电气的8.2%。在切尼维特掌管公司期间,公司的股票收益率达到84%,比标准普尔500指数(S&P 500.)高出20个百分点。

    既然切尼维特有如此突出的业绩,并且他也一如既往地对公司未来保持乐观,那他为何要辞职?该公司称这是切尼维特自己的决定,不涉及任何财务不当行为。事实上,联合技术还再次重申了该公司目前对2014财年的盈余预期。

    联合技术公司在今年曾遭遇过多次打击,包括庞巴迪C系列的齿轮传动式涡轮风扇发动机原型起火,还有F-35联合攻击战斗机的引擎爆炸。两起事故均已得到解决。庞巴迪C系列发动机预定将在2015年底发布。

    海耶斯一直密切参与公司运营,因此他的任命也表明公司董事会对公司目前的业绩非常满意。

    问题可能出在切尼维特对未来的承诺上。当然,切尼维特辞职也可能纯粹出于个人原因。但也有可能是因为他为联合技术公司设立的目标过高,而作为一支传统经济的中坚力量,不论这家成熟的公司运转得多么良好,或者多么善于利用新鲜技术,都不可能达到这位CEO飞行计划所要求的高度和速度。

    切尼维特从未停止推动公司各部门主管为一些几乎不可能实现的目标而努力。今年早些时候,占公司销售额一半以上的建筑系统部门,承诺截至2020年将收入从290亿美元增加到500亿美元,并将利润提高4个百分点以上,达到20%。而要实现这些目标,该部门必须保证销售额按每年8%的速度增长,收入的增长速度还要更快。8%甚至是全球GDP预测增速的两倍以上。但这正是他想要的。

    It was one of the most baffling C-suite resignations in recent memory. At 7 a.m. on Monday, November 24, United Technologies announced that Louis Chenevert, its CEO since April 2008, was stepping down immediately at age 57. His replacement: his long-time CFO Gregory Hayes.

    I spent time interviewing Chenevertfor a recent story, and everything about him was big. He stands 6’5”; shaking his hand is like clutching an electrode. And he was all about big ideas and super-stretch goals. It was Chenevert who orchestrated the biggest deal in aerospace history, United Technologies’ $16.3 billion acquisition of Goodrich in 2010. By pursuing a deal in a depressed market, he snagged the maker of brakes and landing gear at a bargain price. That merger made United Technologies, which was already a big engine-maker, a full-service manufacturer that provides everything that goes on an airliner, from tail to nose, except avionics.

    Chenevert also restored United Technologies UTX -1.37% to the front ranks in the largest market for jet engines, those designed for narrow-body airplanes. “Louis’ baby,” as his lieutenants used to say, is the geared-turbofan, a revolutionary engine that saves around 16% on fuel over conventional designs, and reduces noise at takeoff and landing by 75%. It’s the sole choice on the new Bombardier C-Series, and a strong rival to an engine produced by a GE GE 0.04% partnership on the best-selling Airbus A320-neo.

    Under Chenevert, United Technologies reigned as arguably the most profitable conglomerate in America. Its cash return on total assets last year was 11.4%, far better than General Electric’s 8.2%. During Chenevert’s time at the top, he’s delivered an 84% total return to shareholders, about 20 points better than the S&P 500.

    So, given Chenevert’s excellent record—and typically ebullient optimism about the future, justified or not—why did he resign? The company states that the decision was his alone, and that no financial improprieties were involved. Indeed, the company reaffirmed its current earnings guidance for 2014.

    United Technologies has suffered a few setbacks this year, including a fire in the prototype for the geared turbofan on the Bombardier C-Series and an engine blowout on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Both problems have been fixed. The C-Series is slated to launch on schedule at the end of 2015.

    The appointment of Hayes, an insider with a careful eye on operations, also suggests that the company’s board is satisfied with its current performance.

    The problem may be Chenevert’s promises for the future. Of course, it’s possible that Chenevert is departing for purely personal reasons. But it’s also possible that he has simply set the bar too high for United Technologies, and that a mature, old-economy stalwart, no matter how well run or how adept at harnessing fresh technology, simply cannot soar as high, and as fast, as the CEO’s flight plan demands.

    Chenvert never stopped pushing his business heads to achieve the near-impossible. Early this year, the buildings systems unit, which accounts for more than half the company’s sales, pledged to lift revenues from $29 billion to $50 billion by 2020, and raise margins by over 4 points to 20%. Getting there requires an epic 8%-a-year growth rate in sales, and an even faster increase in earnings. That 8% is more than twice the rate of projected global expansion in GDP. But that’s what the boss wanted.

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