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Counting the Toll of the Pandemic, by the Numbers

GE Capital was supercharged under Jack Welch, who turned the financing unit into a lending colossus that helped power years of enviable earnings. But GE Capital nearly capsized its parent with its bets on risky home mortgages and its dependence on short-term funding that dried up after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

  • Overhauling the business became a costly distraction, leading the conglomerate to begin scaling back the unit under Jeff Immelt six years ago.

GE Capital isn’t quite gone yet. The division will still own an insurance business with $50 billion in assets and a small equipment-leasing operation. But following the close of the aircraft-leasing deal, G.E. will no longer report it as a separate operating unit, putting the focus on G.E.’s remaining manufacturing businesses.

Wall Street is of two minds about the move. Shares in G.E. fell 6 percent yesterday, while S&P downgraded the conglomerate’s credit rating one notch. But Moody’s said the transaction wouldn’t hurt G.E.’s creditworthiness, and some investors praised the deal: “It feels like a smart move strategically,” said Daniel Babkes of Pzena Investment Management.

Lauren Hobart took over as C.E.O. of Dick’s last month, becoming only the third leader in the retailer’s 70-plus-year history. Ms. Hobart took over from Ed Stack, the son of its founder, who is now executive chairman. DealBook caught up with Ms. Hobart in her first interview since taking the top job.

“The pandemic changed us radically and I think for the better,” Ms. Hobart said. The company had already moved its digital operations in-house, which allowed it to shift quickly as its stores were forced to close. “The team spun up curbside pickup for the first time in two days,” she said. “It was a project that would have taken 12 to 18 months before.” An uptick in demand for golf equipment and at-home fitness gear has bolstered the company’s earnings, with sales last year up 10 percent.

Women are a focus for the retailer, and a growing part of the sportswear business in general. Dick’s launched a campaign this week featuring women in sports — and in business. As part of the campaign, Dick’s is donating 100,000 sports bras to female athletes in need. Ms. Hobart and other women who serve as managers at the company are featured in the campaign.

  • “We really wanted to celebrate women,” Ms. Hobart said, “and talk about the fact the leadership team at Dick’s really is passionate about improving sports for girls and women — and that we represent the people that we’re advocating.”

Predicting the path ahead is difficult. “Forecasting for 2021, I think, for all business, is very challenging,” Ms. Hobart said. The company issued somewhat muted sales guidance to investors this week, but Ms. Hobart expects that some pandemic trends, like the rising interest in golf, will stick. “It’s so uncertain to know how the consumer is going to respond,” she said. “We’re just taking one day at a time.”

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