Jack: Straight from the Gut


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 ...

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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.

In anecdotal detail and with self-effacing humor, Jack Welch gives us the people (most notably his Irish mother) who shaped his life and the big hits and the big misses that characterized his career.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Jack Welch, the phenomenally successful CEO of General Electric, has been highly praised, relentlessly analyzed, and occasionally criticized in hundreds of articles and books over the past few decades, but his autobiography -- the highly anticipated Jack: Straight from the Gut -- is the first book to be written by him. With characteristic candor, Welch discusses his childhood, his business philosophy, his achievements and his mistakes, and the lessons he shares with students at Crotonville, GE's famous management development center. The insights Welch shares in Jack: Straight from the Gut, which goes on sale September 11th, don't apply just to corporate leaders: Anyone who is striving to realize their dreams or better the quality of their working life will benefit from his inspirational story and teachings.
Wall Street Journal
...a book that almost everyone still interested in business...can't afford to ignore...a very good yarn...
...will be of interest to anyone who really cares about business...
Bernadine Healy
An American treasure, Jack Welch teaches us how a leader with keen intellect, guts, and honor can impart courage to people around him, weather unexpected storms, inspire performance, and take an organization to greater and greater heights. His formula challenges all of us and any institution striving for excellence.
Warren Buffett
Jack is the Tiger Woods of management. All CEOs want to emulate him. They won't be able to, but they'll come closer if they listen carefully to what he has to say.
Thomas Middelhoff
Jack's vision and courage, his ability to prevail, his art of motivation and, of course, his success, make him the role model of entrepreneurs and managers worldwide.
Nobuyuki Idei
Jack Welch, the brilliant business magician, has finally disclosed his mysteries of management. Now we must accept the generosity of his challenge and try to match or exceed him.
Michael D. Eisner
Jack Welch gave team leadership new meaning as he took an industrial giant and turned it into an industrial colossus with a heart and a soul and a brain.
Publishers Weekly
It doesn't matter whether you love or hate Jack Welch. Who can resist hearing the man tell his story? This abridged version of his recently published autobiography, featuring Welch himself, is quite entertaining. With his slightly raspy Boston accent, Welch discusses his childhood and his career. When he proclaims something, he gives examples to illustrate his point. For instance, he says his mother was the strongest influence on his life. He then recalls the time he threw a hockey stick across the ice in disgust after losing a game, and his mother stormed into the locker room as some teammates were changing to exclaim loudly, "If you don't know how to lose, you'll never know how to win." When discussing his long career at GE, Welch is equally detailed. While some listeners unfamiliar with the corporation may find some of the discussions tedious, most will be captivated by what appears to be Welch's brutal honesty. He talks about having to lobby for promotions because he didn't "fit the GE mold," and he's open about making some poor business decisions. He's not as forthright as it appears, though. He talks about his beloved wife, Carolyn, who provided a stable home while Welch was rising in GE's ranks, but barely mentions their divorce. Still, this audiobook will be interesting listening for anyone who has followed Neutron Jack's career. Simultaneous release with Warner Books hardcover. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this fascinating personal and business memoir, Welch, recently retired CEO and board chair of the General Electric Company, reveals extensive inside details about his life and his 30-plus years with GE. During his 20 years as CEO, Welch built GE into a highly successful megacorporation, earning a reputation as one of the most admired business leaders in the world. Starting with poignant revelations of the importance of his mother in his life, he carries the listener through his early days of success in GE's Pittsfield, MA, office; his entry into the "big leagues" as CEO; the now famous "Neutron Jack" moniker from the time he reduced GE employment by over 100,000 in his strategy to "fix, sell, or close" each business; and the purchase of RCA to provide a foundation for future earnings. The stories of GE's buyout of NBC, the hard work to globalize the company, and the adoption of quality management principles help relate this powerful tale, read by Mike Barnicle and Welch, to listeners dealing with similar challenges in their own careers. The author's self-effacing personality, down-to-earth delivery, and focus on common sense all greatly add to this collection of Welch's intriguing anecdotes, which will likely be in strong demand. His thick Boston accent will occasionally catch listeners off guard and might steer some to the widely acclaimed hard copy. Highly recommended for all public libraries and university libraries supporting a business curriculum. Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
The career of former General Electric CEO Jack Welch leaves us with many lessons in management, business and leadership. From his beginnings as a stuttering, competitive kid from working-class Salem, Mass., to his early days as a GE engineer, to his ascension to CEO in 1980 and subsequent 20-plus-year reign at the top, Welch stressed the importance of people, originality, creativity and common sense. The result is a leadership style that is often imitated, but never equaled.

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.

Resist Arrogance

  • 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

Wall Street Journal
...a book that almost everyone still interested in business...can't afford to ignore...a very good yarn...
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446690683
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 140,074
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.62 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt

Building Self-Confidence

It 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 mortified—in front of my friends—but 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 beliefs—things 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 done—can 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 do—rewarding 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.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note
1. Building Self- Confidence
2. Getting Out of the Pile
3. Blowing the Roof Off
4. Flying Below the Radar
5. Getting Closer to the Big Leagues
6. Swimming in a Bigger Pond

7. Dealing with Reality and "Superficial Congeniality"
8. The Vision Thing
9. The Neuron Years
10. The RCA Deal
11. The People Factory
12. Remaking Crotonville to Remake GE
13. Boundaryless: Taking Ideas to the Bottom Line
14. Deep Dives

15. Too Full of Myself
16. GE Capital: The Growth Engine
17. Mixing NBC with Light Bulbs
18. When to Fight, When to Fold

19. Globalization
20. Growing Services
21. Six Sigma and Beyond
22. E-Business

23. "Go Home, Mr. Welch"
24. What This CEO Thing is All About
25. A Short Reflection on Golf
26. "New Guy"

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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
Reflections on Writing Jack: Straight from the Gut

Many have asked why I decided to write a book. The truth is, people have been after me for years to do a book. I never really had any interest in it until I got a great reaction to a story written about GE and me in Business Week magazine a few years ago. Hundreds of total strangers wrote letters to me. Many of them described the organizational pressures they felt to become someone they weren't in order to be successful. They liked the story's contention that I never changed who I was. The reaction made me think that my story might be worth telling. I asked John Byrne, the writer of the Business Week story, to help me. John agreed, and we started the project about a little over a year ago.

Writing a book is like nothing I've ever done. It was a killer, really hard. I don't think I ever worked so hard in my life. At one point, I even gave up golf for something like three months. But it also gave me the chance to reflect on my career and my experiences. I wanted to share them with people who would be interested in knowing what it was like, and I thought others might find some of the ideas helpful.

John and I had a couple of goals in mind from the start. I didn't want this book to be a chest-thumping exercise. It was difficult to write the word "I" when everything I ever accomplished was done through other people. At first, I thought it could be a book about all the mistakes I've made. I've made a ton of them and have learned a lot from them. But everyone agreed we wouldn't be able to sustain an entire book on just mistakes. I knew one thing for sure. I didn't want anything in the book that sounded pompous or preachy. I wanted to tell a simple story about a guy from Salem, Massachusetts, who got lucky in life, and I wanted to explain in more detail some of the ideas that helped me at GE.

I never imagined I'd be so lucky in life. It's like God came down and said, "Jack, here is your moment. Take it." I couldn't believe I was paid to have so much fun and to do so many wonderful things. Neither could my mother when she was alive. When I went to Europe for the very first time in 1964 on a business trip, she was petrified that GE wouldn't reimburse me. "Are you sure they are going to pay you for it?" she asked, over and over again.

She was a powerful force in my life. She taught me the importance of self-confidence, something covered in the book. I think it had a lot to do with my success. Building self-confidence in people, giving them candid feedback and constant appraisal, rewarding and celebrating their successes, are all major ingredients of creating a great organization. It's what my mother taught me at 15 Lovett St. in Salem, where I grew up. It's what I tried to do throughout my life. A manager's job is to give people the opportunity to stretch and become more confident.

It helped that I began my career at GE in a start-up environment outside the mainstream of the company in plastics. I loved the informal atmosphere we had in that business in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Informality liberates people to do more and to do it faster all the time. When I became chairman in 1981, I tried to run the business like a corner grocery store where everyone's opinions counted regardless of their titles. One of a manager's jobs is to excite everyone by the opportunities change provides and to let no one be paralyzed by its challenges. We need to always show people that they can do more than they ever thought possible and let them enjoy the exhilaration from their successes. If there's anything I'm really proud of it's seeing so many people stretch and accomplish things they never thought possible. GE is a people factory. It's a company that develops great people who make great products and services and at the same time achieve their personal dreams. I tried to get at this in the book.

As I leave GE, after more than 40 years at the company, I know I'll really miss the people and the wonderful friendships. I'm excited by the great things my successor, Jeff Immelt, and all the GE people will do in the future. It's a real thrill to me to know that GE's best days are ahead of it. I'll be cheering from the sidelines, and over the next few months at least, I'll be trying to get people to buy this book. (Jack Welch)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2005


    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!

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