Boston-based General Electric has struggled in recent years. On Monday, the company announced it would be selling its biopharma business. GE has reached a $21 billion deal with the firm Danaher, the company that was once run by GE’s current CEO, Larry Culp. Greg Ryan of the Boston Business Journal spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the sale. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: Larry Culp, the current CEO for GE, was head of Danaher for 13 years, ending in 2014. To a layman, that kind of sounds like some sort of cannibalization. Am I misreading that?

Greg Ryan: I don't know about that, but it is interesting, because Danaher approached GE early last year about making a very similar deal. This was before Culp had become CEO of GE, and at that point, GE said it wasn't interested. But you know, here we are the next year, and things seem to have changed with Culp in charge and his former firm approaching them. But as Culp said today, $21 billion is a lot of money for a company like GE that's trying hard to pay down its substantial debt load. So he framed it as an offer that was too good to pass up.

Howard: Just how big a deal has the GE biopharma unit been to GE as a whole?

Ryan: Last year it brought in about $3 billion in revenue, which may sound like a lot, but to a company as large as GE, isn't that large. Just for comparison's sake, GE’s health care division, which is just one aspect of what it does, made around $20 billion last year. But it has been a successful business for GE. Not a huge part of the business, but a profitable one.

Howard: What do you see as the purpose of the sale?

Ryan: I think this is to help GE pay down its substantial debt. They've struggled in recent years, as we know, and they've been looking to sell off assets in order to get cash in order to pay off debt, and this goes a long way toward that. The deal is almost all cash. Twenty-one billion dollars in cash for a company like GE, which has more than $100 billion in debt, goes a long way.

Howard: One of the reasons GE chose Boston for its new world headquarters was because of the city's booming biopharma and life sciences industry. Does this sale kind of undercut that?

Ryan: It does to a certain extent. The biopharma business is just one part of GE’s life sciences business, but this announcement, in conjunction with the announcement earlier this month that GE was going to significantly shrink the size of its proposed headquarters in Boston from 800 employees down to 250 employees — some of those 800 employees were going to be technology workers who might have expertise in biotech.

Howard: That's right, earlier this month GE did announce it was also giving back tens of millions of dollars in state incentives it had received to bring jobs here. It also announced that it was not going to be completing its planned tower in Boston's Fort Point neighborhood. Is the sale yet another sign of a declining GE? Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the one-time stalwart company?

Ryan: Well I guess it depends on how you look at it. This is certainly one more example of GE shrinking in size. But on the other hand, it looks like GE needs to shrink in order to survive and thrive. The market has reacted very positively to this news today. Shares were way up this morning, right after it was announced, and it looks like people with money in GE, they think this is the right move. They think GE needs to get smaller.

Howard: GE dividends were as reliable as the seasons once upon a time. Is this part of a plan to bolster payouts to investors?

Ryan: This is one step in that plan. They did cut the dividend down to a penny last year, which really took some shareholders by surprise and angered some shareholders. So this goes a long way toward shoring up GE’s balance sheet, to getting rid of some of that debt. And that in turn, not right away, but maybe a few years down the road, will help GE’s dividend get back to at least close to what it once was.

Howard: How might GE employees be affected by the sale to Danaher?

Ryan: So GE has about 700 life sciences employees here in Massachusetts, in facilities in Westborough and Marlborough. Presumably some of those employees will be affected by this deal. Some of those employees will be headed to Danaher. I asked GE about that this morning, and they said at this point they don't want to disclose how employees are going to be affected, but at least some of them here in Massachusetts could very well be part of today's announcement.

Howard: Danaher is based in Washington D.C., but you're thinking that the jobs will stay here, rather than having to move?

Ryan: My hunch would be that if there are any employees going over to Danaher, they will stay right here in Massachusetts.

Howard: The GE sale of the biopharma business to Danaher — when is it going to close?

Ryan: It's scheduled to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

Howard: That's Greg Ryan of the Boston Business Journal, speaking with us about Boston-based General Electric's decision to sell — for $21 billion dollars — its biopharma unit. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.