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Larry Culp, GE’s new CEO, inherited a mess. But he’s the best hope to fix it. For now By Bryan Gruley, Richard Clough, and Polly Mosendz

One Sunday in March, Gary Wiesner, who runs General Electric Co.’s wind-turbine-blade factory in Pensacola, Fla., received something he’d never gotten before: a personal email from the CEO. H. Lawrence Culp Jr. wanted to know if it would be OK if he came for a visit.

When Culp arrived two days later, alone, in jeans, it marked the first time a GE chief executive officer had visited the plant since the company bought it 18 years ago. He spent about two hours walking the floor and chatting with technicians, stopping only briefly for a call with the board of directors.

A longtime devotee of Toyota-style lean manufacturing, Culp was in his element. While overhead screens flashed measurements of the production pace in eight-hour increments, Culp wondered aloud if the metrics were visual enough and whether they could be broken down into 20-minute or even 10-minute slices, so workers would know sooner when they might be falling behind on their goals. At the tour’s end, he urged them to face up to production issues as early in the process as possible—or, as he put it, “Let’s make it red, make it ugly, let’s go fix them,” Wiesner recalls. A half-hour after leaving, Culp sent another email promising to return.

The wind turbine business is among the least of Culp’s worries. GE’s balance sheet is lopsided with debt, its GE Power division is shedding millions of dollars in cash daily, the stock price is barely in double digits, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the company’s accounting practices. Nonetheless, Culp’s Pensacola visit is a telling example of how the first outsider to run GE is trying to fix it, metric by metric.

Since taking over as CEO on Oct. 1, he’s eschewed the company’s

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