By Claire Ferris-Lay
General Electric CEO also says Mubadala partnership 'has great potential'.
US conglomerate General Electric said on Thursday it was targeting growth in the Middle East of 10-15 percent, with healthcare seen as a key area for investment.
Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of the world's largest company, told Arabian Business that he would be "disappointed" if GE could not hit at least 10 percent growth in the region.
He also hailed the company's relationship with Abu Dhabi government-owned investment company Mubadala, saying the joint venture could possibly look at new energy partnerships in Africa.
On seeing growth in the region, Immelt said: "We feel like we’re not keeping up. We’ve probably tripled [our presence in this region] in the past decade. We see in every [sector], aviation, water, gas, health, you go down to the list of things that GE does industrially all of them have tremendous prospects in this region."
Immelt said he was particularly keen on opportunities in the region's healthcare sector which is forecast to grow rapidly over the next few years.
"[Investment in healthcare] is an immense interest in the region, it's an immense interest across the Islamic world, the funding sources will come out of this region, the technology will have to be localized and developed, the information technology that sorts it will have to be localised and developed so we think healthcare really is going to be very dynamic in this region," he added.
The last two years have been some of GE’s most difficult as it has battled the global economic downturn with its financial services arm, GE Capital, hit particularly badly.
The world’s biggest manufacturer of jet engines and medical-imaging machines responded to the crisis by suspending its share buyback and reducing its annual dividend for the first time since 1938.
Despite the measures it lost the highest-possible credit ratings from both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service.
The firm, which last week posted better than expected Q4 profits, said it would return to growth in 2011. Net profit fell 19 percent to $3.1bn compared to the same period in 2008 for the fourth quarter to the end of December 2009, beating analyst’s expectations.
In November, Mubadala said its commercial finance joint venture with General Electric was aiming for at least $4 billion in business in 2010.
The $8 billion Abu Dhabi-based joint venture with commitments of $4 billion each by Mubadala and GE was set up earlier last year.
On the relationship with Mubadala, Immelt said: "I think we're liked minded, we’ve had a very strong relationship and in many ways I think we are in the beginning stages.
"When you think about GE we’re really about infrastructure and financial service business, when you think about Mubadala is really focused on its infrastructure and financial services so aviation is a big focus, energy is a big focus the potential to join forces in new regions like Africa maybe."
He added: "I think we recognised early on that we they were a good stable partner. We recognised the power of partnering with a company like GE with what I would call a sovereign-multi business company.
"I look at them as a GE parallel in the region, I think that’s always been what their aspiration has been so in many ways for us its like partnering with a big industrial player like we’ve done in the past. I think it's got great potential."
In June last year, GE opened a new office and technology centre in Bahrain, to house more than 100 employees, including engineering and service specialists.
The facility aims to provide faster response to meet the needs of GE’s regional municipal, utility and industrial customers, the company said.