Jack: Straight from the Gutby Jack Welch, John A. Byrne
They called him Neutron Jack. They called him the world's toughest boss. And then Fortune called him "The Manager of the Century." In his twenty-year career at the helm of General Electric, Jack Welch defied conventional wisdom and turned an aging behemoth of a corporation into a lean, mean engine of growth and corporate innovation. In this remarkable autobiography
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They called him Neutron Jack. They called him the world's toughest boss. And then Fortune called him "The Manager of the Century." In his twenty-year career at the helm of General Electric, Jack Welch defied conventional wisdom and turned an aging behemoth of a corporation into a lean, mean engine of growth and corporate innovation. In this remarkable autobiography-a classic business book and runaway New York Times bestseller now updated with a new afterword by the author-Jack Welch takes us on the rough-and-tumble ride that has been his remarkable life. From his working-class childhood to his early days in G.E. Plastics to his life at the top of the world's most successful company, Welch tells his intensely personal story with his well-known fire and candor. And although it chronicles billion-dollar deals and high-stakes corporate standoffs, Jack is ultimately a story about people-from a man who based his career on demanding only the best from others and from himself.
During his 21-year tenure as chairman and chief executive of General Electric, Jack Welch redefined business culture in America and across the globe. Today, Welch epigrams like "Fix, sell, or close" are part of our everyday vocabulary; Welch initiatives like Six Sigma have enabled many organizations to meet the demands of a highly competitive marketplace; and Welch disciples hold leadership positions throughout the Fortune 500. In Jack: Straight from the Gut, the first book ever written by GE's legendary CEO, you'll find out how a chemical engineer impatient with bureaucracy took a solidly prosperous company and remade it into an extremely profitable, aggressive, value-oriented business that serves as a model for executives from New York to New Delhi.
The first section of Welch's narrative deals with his childhood (the fierce passion and integrity of his mother, Grace who refused to allow her son's stutter to stand in his way resonate throughout the book), his formative experiences as he struggled to climb "out of the pile" while developing a new plastic called PPO for GE, and his ultimate accession after two decades of hard work to the post of chairman. As he recounts his rise through the ranks, Welch shares the principles that he believes were integral to his success. First and foremost is his commitment to creating a meritocracy in which the best people, those who truly distinguish themselves through the quality of their work, are rewarded: Nothing is as important as identifying, training, and holding on to talented people. Another core principle of Welch's is the need for speed and responsiveness; "I wanted the company," he writes, "to be more like a speedboat, fast and agile, able to turn on a dime." A third principle could be called "informality" or even "joy." As a manager, Welch loved the back-and-forth involved in a true exchange of ideas as well as the conviviality of a night out celebrating the latest victory with his team.
The second part of Jack: Straight from the Gut centers around Welch's resoundingly successful and sometimes painful struggle to modify GE's "hardware" (some business units were sold off or restructured while others, like NBC, were acquired) and its "social architecture" (the culture or values that drove the company). During this period, Welch revitalized Crotonville, GE's famous management training center, and introduced the revolutionary concept of "boundaryless" thinking into the organization. Welch tells us, "The boundaryless company I saw would remove all barriers among the functions: engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and the rest.... It would eliminate the less visible walls of race and gender. It would put the team ahead of the individual ego." The third and final section of the book discusses GE's four top initiatives over the past decade globalization, the growth of services, Six Sigma, and digitalization and also includes a pithy chapter entitled "What This CEO Thing Is All About," in which Welch distills the lessons of his amazing career. Throughout the latter part of the book, Welch also deals candidly with some of his most highly publicized problems, including the response to the layoffs of the '80s; his difficulties with the acquisition of Kidder, Peabody; and the Hudson River PCB problem.
Always enlightening and informative, Jack: Straight from the Gut offers us an invaluable look into the mind of the man whom Business Week calls "the most impressive CEO of his time." Although Welch doesn't portray himself as General Electric's savior (throughout the book, he generously acknowledges the contributions of his colleagues, thereby remaining true to his vision of team spirit), his book is essential reading for businesspeople and for anyone else who wants to understand the principles by which companies should be run. (Sunil Sharma)
A Review by Janet Lowe
The cover of Jack Welch's autobiography uncannily reflects what has recently come to pass at General Electric -- Jack has left the building. A relaxed, friendly, engaging Welch smiles directly into the camera -- the sweetest guy you'd ever meet now that he's retired. To see the toughest guy you would ever want to meet, the most competitive guy, the most ambitious guy, turn to the photos in the book's centerpiece. In one, a glowering Welch menacingly raises his fist to make a point. Each of these Welches is the real Welch -- they just represent who he was at different times and different places in his career. Now that Jack is no longer GE's chief executive officer, he can and does settle down for an honest, candid talk about his personal life and his remarkable 40-year career at General Electric.
Despite the numerous volumes that have been written about him before, Welch's hot-off-the-press biography is worth every penny. True, many of the details of his life, such as his relationship with his mother, his management principles, and the selection of his successor, have been covered at length. But Welch and his coauthor, John A. Byrne, have done a yeoman's job of giving more colorful details, exploring ideas in depth, and infusing the book with Welch's snap, wit, and energy.
The messages Welch hopes readers will get from the book are made clear by the words he uses over and over again -- passion, integrity, and his enormous respect for intellect. He becomes a little defensive when discussing GE's fight with the feds over polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination of the Hudson River. The chapter entitled "Go Home, Mr. Welch," about the failed Honeywell merger, makes especially compelling reading. Students of business tactics will learn nearly as much from this failure as they will from his many king-sized successes.
Although it wasn't his goal to do so, Welch displays himself in this book as a uniquely American executive at the head of a thoroughly American company. His willingness to smash through all kinds of social, political, and economic barriers shows us that American ingenuity is alive and kicking -- in fact kicking hard. It also is clear (Welch says so himself) that he has been helped throughout his career by family, friends, teachers, bosses, and mentors who gave him chances to stretch and grow to his full potential. You might even say he enjoyed a lot of luck, unless you believe that most luck is nothing more than the convergence of brains, preparation and opportunity. If you want to know how this convergence works, read Jack: Straight from the Gut.
Janet Lowe is the author of 17 business books, including biographies of business leaders Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and most recently Welch: An American Icon. She is currently writing a book about champion mutual fund manager Bill Miller.
In Jack: Straight from the Gut, Welch is both storyteller and coach, using his exceptional career as the backdrop to share his thoughts on what it takes to be a great leader. Part management text, part page-turner, Jack shows how the man, widely regarded as the finest corporate executive of his generation, built his business and his reputation.
After Welch has described in detail the colorful stories of his rise through the ranks and the actions he took to change the corporate culture at GE, he delivers specific ways a CEO can lead a company to success. He writes that there is no pat formula for being a CEO. Everyone does it differently, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it, no magic formula that is the right thing to do in all cases. However, Welch has found a number of strategies that have helped him lead GE over the years. These are a few:
Ten Leadership Principles
- Maintain your integrity. Establish your integrity and never waver from it. People might not have agreed with Welch on every issue, but they always knew they were getting it straight and honest. He never had two agendas; there was only one way - the straight way.
- Set the tone for your company. The organization takes its cue from the person on top. Welch always told GE's business leaders their personal intensity determined their organization's intensity - how hard they worked and how many people they touched would be emulated a thousand times over.
- Maximize your organization's intellect. Getting every employee's mind into the game is a huge part of what being a CEO is all about; taking their best ideas and transferring them to others is the secret. Be open to the best of what everyone, everywhere, has to offer, then transfer that learning across the organization.
- Put people first, strategy second. Getting the right people in the right jobs is a lot more important than developing a strategy - this truth applies to all kinds of businesses. Without the right leaders in place, the best, most forward-thinking strategies in the world will amount to little.
- Stress informality. Bureaucracy strangles; informality liberates. Creating an informal atmosphere is a competitive advantage. It isn't about first names, unassigned parking spaces, or casual clothing; it is about making sure everybody counts, and everybody knows they count. Passion, chemistry and idea-flow from any level at any place are what matter. Everybody's welcome and expected to go at it.
- Be self-confident. Arrogance is a killer, and wearing ambition on one's sleeve can have the same effect; legitimate self-confidence, however, is a winner. The true test of self-confidence is the courage to be open - to welcome change and new ideas, regardless of their source. Self-confident people also are not afraid to have their views challenged; they relish the intellectual combat that enriches ideas.
- Appraise all the time. Whether you are handing out a stock option, giving a raise, or simply bumping into someone in the hallway, always let your people know where they stand.
- Mind your culture. If your company joins forces with another through merger or acquisition, establish the new entity's culture on day one, to minimize confusion and root out resistance to your goals.
- Recognize the benefits of speed. By acting decisively on people, plants and investments, Welch was able to get out of the pile very early in his career at GE. Yet, upon his retirement 40 years later, one of his greatest regrets was that he had not acted fast enough on a number of occasions. He never regretted taking quick action.
- Forget the zeros. The entrepreneurial benefits of being small - agility, speed and ease of communication - are often lost in a big company. Welch's experience in plastics enabled him to come to the job of CEO knowing that isolating small projects and keeping them out of the mainstream was a smart thing to do. By focusing on such projects as separate, smaller businesses, the people involved were more energized, adventurous and backed by the right resources.
Why Soundview Likes This Book
Jack delivers the lessons of leadership that have helped Welch become one of the most recognizable and respected business leaders of our time. Throughout Jack, he conveys his motivations and successful ideas with heart and intellect, and develops a formula that any leader can use to inspire performance and overcome organizational challenges. By providing the details of his experiences at the top of GE with compelling stories, and shedding light on the thinking he used to conquer unexpected difficulties, Jack offers colorful insight into the strategies of a legendary leader. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries
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Read an Excerpt
Building Self-ConfidenceIt was the final hockey game of a lousy season. We had won the first three games in my senior year at Salem High School, beating Danvers, Revere, and Marblehead, but had then lost the next half dozen games, five of them by a single goal. So we badly wanted to win this last one at the Lynn Arena against our archrival Beverly High. As co-captain of the team, the Salem Witches, I had scored a couple of goals, and we were feeling pretty good about our chances.
It was a good game, pushed into overtime at 2-2.
But very quickly, the other team scored and we lost again, for the seventh time in a row. In a fit of frustration, I flung my hockey stick across the ice of the arena, skated after it, and headed back to the locker room. The team was already there, taking off their skates and uniforms. All of a sudden, the door opened and my Irish mother strode in.
The place fell silent. Every eye was glued on this middle-aged woman in a floral-patterned dress as she walked across the floor, past the wooden benches where some of the guys were already changing. She went right for me, grabbing the top of my uniform.
"You punk!" she shouted in my face. "If you don't know how to lose, you'll never know how to win. If you don't know this, you shouldn't be playing."
I was mortifiedin front of my friendsbut what she said never left me. The passion, the energy, the disappointment, and the love she demonstrated by pushing her way into that locker room was my mom. She was the most influential person in my life. Grace Welch taught me the value of competition, just as she taught me the pleasure of winning and the need to take defeat in stride.
If I have any leadership style, a way of getting the best out of people, I owe it to her. Tough and aggressive, warm and generous, she was a great judge of character. She always had opinions of the people she met. She could "smell a phony a mile away."
She was extremely compassionate and generous to friends. If a relative or neighbor visited the house and complimented her on the water glasses in the breakfront, she wouldn't hesitate to give them away.
On the other hand, if you crossed her, watch out. She could hold a grudge against anyone who betrayed her trust. I could just as easily be describing myself.
And many of my basic management beliefsthings like competing hard to win, facing reality, motivating people by alternately hugging and kicking them, setting stretch goals, and relentlessly following up on people to make sure things get donecan be traced to her as well. The insights she drilled into me never faded. She always insisted on facing the facts of a situation. One of her favorite expressions was "Don't kid yourself. That's the way it is."
"If you don't study," she often warned, "you'll be nothing. Absolutely nothing. There are no shortcuts. Don't kid yourself!"
Those are blunt, unyielding admonitions that ring in my head every day. Whenever I try to delude myself that a deal or business problem will miraculously improve, her words set me straight.
From my earliest years in school, she taught me the need to excel. She knew how to be tough with me, but also how to hug and kiss. She made sure I knew how wanted and loved I was. I'd come home with four As and a B on my report card, and my mother would want to know why I got the B. But she would always end the conversation congratulating and hugging me for the As.
She checked constantly to see if I did my homework, in much the same way that I continually follow up at work today. I can remember sitting in my upstairs bedroom, working away on the day's homework, only to hear her voice rising from the living room: "Have you done it yet? You better not come down until you've finished!"
But it was over the kitchen table, playing gin rummy with her, that I learned the fun and joy of competition. I remember racing across the street from the schoolyard for lunch when I was in the first grade, itching for the chance to play gin rummy with her. When she beat me, which was often, she'd put the winning cards on the table and shout, "Gin!" I'd get so mad, but I couldn't wait to come home again and get the chance to beat her.
That was probably the start of my competitiveness, on the baseball diamond, the hockey rink, the golf course, and business.
Perhaps the greatest single gift she gave me was self-confidence. It's what I've looked for and tried to build in every executive who has ever worked with me. Confidence gives you courage and extends your reach. It lets you take greater risks and achieve far more than you ever thought possible. Building self-confidence in others is a huge part of leadership. It comes from providing opportunities and challenges for people to do things they never imagined they could dorewarding them after each success in every way possible.
My mother never managed people, but she knew all about building self-esteem. I grew up with a speech impediment, a stammer that wouldn't go away. Sometimes it led to comical, if not embarrassing, incidents. In college, I often ordered a tuna fish on white toast on Fridays when Catholics in those days couldn't eat meat. Inevitably, the waitress would return with not one but a pair of sandwiches, having heard my order as "tu-tuna sandwiches."
My mother served up the perfect excuse for my stuttering. "It's because you're so smart," she would tell me. "No one's tongue could keep up with a brain like yours." For years, in fact, I never worried about my stammer. I believed what she told me: that my mind worked faster than my mouth.
I didn't understand for many years just how much confidence she poured into me. Decades later, when looking at early pictures of me on my sports teams, I was amazed to see that almost always I was the shortest and smallest kid in the picture. In grade school, where I played guard on the basketball squad, I was almost three-quarters the size of several of the other players.
Yet I never knew it or felt it. Today, I look at those pictures and laugh at what a little shrimp I was. It's just ridiculous that I wasn't more conscious of my size. That tells you what a mother can do for you. She gave me that much confidence. She convinced me that I could be anyone I wanted to be. It was really up to me. "You just have to go for it," she would say.Copyright © 2001 by John F. Welch, Jr.
What People are Saying About This
Jack... took an industrial giant and turned it into an industrial colossus with a heart and a soul and a brain.
Jack Welch...has finally disclosed his mysteries of management...
An American treasure... teaches us how a leader with keen intellect, guts, and honor can impart courage to people around him...
Jack's vision and courage... and, of course, his success, make him the role model of entrepreneurs and managers worldwide.
All CEOs want to emulate him... they'll come closer if they listen carefully to what he has to say.
Meet the Author
Jack Welch received his B.S. degree in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts in 1957 and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois. He joined GE in 1960 and was elected vice president in 1972 and vice-chairman in 1979. In 1981, he became the eighth chairman and CEO in the company's 121-year history.
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This book has the mastery of 'selling' his ideas by providing vivid details of his business transactions and his family life. His personal life includes only his connections with his business life, so it does not get TOO personal, but just enough to relate with his business personality. This books takes on his journey from childhood to present day. What a professional business role model and exceptional leader! No wonder he was GE's CEO for over 20 years. Thanks Jack, oh and GOME HOME, JACK!