Jack Welch : The Greatest Business Manager In The World

Jack Welch was born in late 1935 to a working class father and a stay at home mom. From those humble beginnings in Peabody, Massachusets he would go on to an illustrious career spanning several fields including business and chemical engineering. By the time of his retirement, his net worth stood at an impressive $720 Million and it continues to grow due to several smart investments.

By Hamilton83 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Almost Quitting GE

In the early 1950’s Jack Welch started college straight after high school. By 1957 he had attained his first degree in Chemical Engineering which he quickly followed up with a Masters and then a Doctorate in the same field.

After graduating in 1960, Jack Welch was hired at General Electric (GE) as a junior engineer, a position with which he was dissatisfied enough to contemplate quitting. After seriously considering an offer from another firm, his boss at the time convinced him to stay and this choice began his journey to GE’s highest position.

From Science to Business

Despite having an almost exclusively scientific academic background, Welch showed a surprising amount of business acumen and was promoted frequently within the company.

By 1972 he was a vice president. Two years later he was made senior VP and was promoted once more before landing the job of CEO in 1981. At 45, he was the youngest to ever hold that position.

Welch’s approach to management was unconventional and even came off as calloused at times but its results were undisputable. He would seek out and eliminate any non productive aspects of the company whether they be buildings, employees or machinery with the aim of having nothing superfluous weighing down the business.

Managers unable to cope with this were dismissed. The result was a much more nimble company that responded to changes in the market in real time and grew stronger for it. 

Reputation As A Devastator And Achiever

The many thousands of employees who were sacked as part of this change thought bitterly of him and bestowed on him the moniker “Neutron Jack”. This was meant to compare his leadership to the devastation of the similarly named bomb.

Shareholders, on the other hand, were thrilled as Jack Welch’s mixture of informality and unrelenting demand for efficiency led the company’s market value to inflate to over 20 times what it was first worth by the end of his tenure as CEO.

This rate of success drew the notice of business professionals and schools with many analyzing his methods as case studies to teach as industry best practice.

Retirement and Beyond

In 2001 after 20 years as GE’s CEO (and double that in other capacities), Jack Welch announced his retirement. He had managed to stay longer with GE than with his first or second wives and three years later was on his third marriage to Suzy Wetlaufer.

He left the company after receiving the largest severance payment of any executive at that time, a staggering sum of over $400 Million. His first book, the autobiographical “Jack: Straight from the Gut” was released the same year he retired and shot to the top of the New York Times’ Bestsellers List as well as that of the Wall Street Journal. 

In 2005 he co-authored his second book “Winning” with his third wife, Suzy. It was focused on management and received even more critical acclaim. They also joined forces with Michael Clifford to create “The Jack Welch Management Institute”.

Through this medium, he continues to offer access to himself to students completing the school’s MBA and plays a large part in the shaping of its curriculum. He regularly appears at various speaking engagements and despite being in his late seventies has fully embraced social media as a means of spreading his influence.

Lessons we can Learn from Jack Welch:

  • Being extremely learned or accomplished in one field does not mean you cannot be just as good or better in another.
  • You decide how retired you want to be or if you even want to retire at all.
  • Good partnerships complement your strengths and make you better.
  • Be willing to share your knowledge and experience with others.

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"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Isaac Newton

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