Jack: Straight from the Gut

Jack: Straight from the Gut

by Jack Welch, John A. Byrne


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As CEO of General Electric for the past twenty years, he has built its market cap by more than $450 billion and established himself as the most admired business leader in the world. His championing of initiatives like Six Sigma quality, globalization, and e-business have helped define the modern corporation. At the same time, he's a gutsy boss who has forged a unique philosophy and an operating system that relies on a "boundaryless" sharing of ideas, an intense focus on people, and an informal, give-and-take style that makes bureaucracy the enemy. 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.

Starting at GE in 1960 as an engineer earning $10,500, Jack learned the need for "getting out of the pile" when his first raise was the same as everyone else's. He stayed out of the corporate bureaucracy while running a $2 billion collection of GE businesses-in a sweater and blue jeans-out of a Hilton in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. After avoiding GE's Fairfield, Connecticut, headquarters for years, Jack was eventually summoned by then Chairman Reg Jones, who was planning his succession. There ensued one of the most painful parts of his career-Jack's dark-horse struggle, filled with political tension, to make it to the CEO's chair. A hug from Reg confirmed Jack was the new boss-and started the GE transformation. Welch walks us through the "Neutron Jack" years, when GE's employment rolls fell by more than 100,000 as part of a strategy to "fix, sell, or close" each business...and how he used the purchase of RCA to provide a foundation for the company's future earnings. There were mistakes, too-and Jack confronts them openly. In "Too Full of Myself," he describes one of the biggest blunders: the purchase of Kidder Peabody, which ran counter to GE's culture. The riveting story of his last year-the elaborate process of selecting a successor and the attempt to buy Honeywell-is also told in compelling detail.

This book is laced with refreshing interludes, such as "A Short Reflection on Golf," that capture Jack's competitiveness and the importance of friendship in his life. Destined to become a business classic, Jack: Straight from the Gut is a deeply personal journey filled with passion and a sheer lust for life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446528382
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 09/11/2001
Pages: 479
Product dimensions: 6.04(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.54(d)

About 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.

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.

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"


What People are Saying About This

Michael D. Eisner

Michael D. Eisner, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company
Jack... took an industrial giant and turned it into an industrial colossus with a heart and a soul and a brain.

Nobuyuki ldei

Nobuyuki Idei, Chairman and CEO, Sony Corporation
Jack Welch...has finally disclosed his mysteries of management...

Bernadine Healy

Bernadine Healy, M.D., President and CEO, American Red Cross
An American treasure... teaches us how a leader with keen intellect, guts, and honor can impart courage to people around him...

Thomas Middelhoff

Dr. Thomas Middelhoff, Chairman of the Board, Bertelsmann AG
Jack's vision and courage... and, of course, his success, make him the role model of entrepreneurs and managers worldwide.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway
All CEOs want to emulate him... they'll come closer if they listen carefully to what he has to say.

Michael Eisner

Jack...took an industrial giant and turned it into an industrial colossus with a heart and a soul and a brain. (Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company)


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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Jack: Straight from the Gut 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
markdeo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very easy to understand. Great for character building. Very insightful. Good from a Management as a discipline standpoint. I recommend.
Jaylabelle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ok, so he was the great paradigm-shifting CEO of GE, but as an autobiography, I found this book lacked authenticity. I did not finish it!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Jack was great for GE, and has plenty of insights on management but this book left me with more questions than answers. Welch was fortunate to have a huge tableau on which to paint, but put him in a startup and I doubt he'd last two weeks, vision notwithstanding. Perhaps the real business story here is between the lines - that 9/10 of leadership is having a great company and great bench, that 80% of sucess is picking your company properly, etc. etc. In that light, Jack Welch seems a tad more lucky than talented.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very well written and does a great job of telling the story behind one of the 20th century's greatest executives. While I don't think anyone (except the author) will agree with all of his decisions, he gives his reasoning and thus it is always possible to see his side. And it's impossible to argue with his results. If you're looking from lessons you can apply, I would recommend Edwin Locke's 'The Prime Movers' instead.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When my teacher showed us the book `JACK¿, I thought I could like it. I like the picture on the cover. He is smiling with confidence and achievement. As his picture, he showed me his amazing strategies and accomplishment at his work. He has gift at work and treat people. He colored GE, indeed. Above all, his confidence and his decisive personality impressed me. This book can give good lesson that wants to be CEO or businessman like me. During read this book I keep comparing jack with me. I asked questions to me how many possibilities I have to be a good Businessman several times. Actually, he gave me motivate in business area. Also he gives good lessons but only to businessman but also to who has employees. He shows us good way like hug and kick. It can be helpful to both of them. On the other hand, Even if his success he has a blind point. At first part of book, he mentioned about his relationship between him and his parents especially his mom. And he said it made his personality in the role of the CEO. I think he could do same things to his children. But, he didn¿t mentioned about his children and his relationship not only once. Was he too busy to do? And he failed in his marriage life. He married two times. He even didn¿t give enough faith to wives. I expected not only his business life but also his beautiful family life. Even though he succeeded at work, he failed at his family and social life. To success at work can¿t be success in life. I respect his achievement at work, but I feel sorry to his life. I think he never felt real happiness in his life. I recommend this book others who are interested in business. But I don¿t think this is the best book for businessman. Almost all of us dream of successful life in family and work but the book `JACK¿ can¿t be help in both ways. If someone wants to get these from JACK, you¿d better chose other book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Part of the art of being a CEO is managing to be just interesting enough to hold people¿s attention without offending any listeners or revealing too much. Of course, there is much more to it as well, like exercising authority, setting clear standards and maintaining your integrity. Jack Welch¿s fairly conservative autobiography proves that the irascible Welch mastered all aspects of this difficult discipline, especially the first. Don¿t expect to learn juicy details of Jack¿s divorce or to get an insider¿s political view of the horse race to select his successor. Nevertheless, this memoir might be the closest you ever get to answering the question, ¿What made Jack Welch tick?¿ Despite some bland moments, we from getAbstract contend that anyone who wants to understand the American corporate landscape should read this book ¿ so once again, Welch delivers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The real synopsis of this book is: 'I'm great. I solved every problem. Everything bad was just a misunderstanding.' Anyone with real business experience will recognize this as a puff-piece. Lots of great things happened at GE because of Jack Welch, no doubt. But the dark side of layoffs, divestures and bad investments are papered-over. The environmental nightmare GE caused by dumping PCBs into the Hudson river (on Jack's watch) was conveniently forgotten, for example. If you want a to read a self-serving valentine, read this book. If you want real management insight, look elsewhere.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the book. Jack Welch is a super achiever and there is a lot to be learnt from this book. I am sure it will help most professionals.Students who dream of becoming CEOs (like myself!) should definitely read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jack Welch, although the most well known CEO in Corporate America for decades, is going beyond his own myth in his autobiography. He has decided to get a better hold of his destiny by explaining himself to readers. Welsh shares with his audience some very interesting insights about his personality and management style that he has developed over time: self-confidence, self-respect, trust, toughness and aggressiveness as well as warmth and generosity. Welsh, a star performer, realistically played the promotion game to climb to the top of GE. As CEO of GE for two decades, Welsh proved many detractors wrong by turning a stodgy, bureaucratic manufacturing conglomerate into a very profitable, service-oriented constellation of companies sharing the same vision and values. Welsh probably knows better than anybody else that the work of his life is unfinished business. Business is indeed a process of constant renewal.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a MUST READ for all! It is a page turner and non-stop enjoyable journey!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not a manager, but a veteran of the R&D world and I enjoyed this book very much since it portrayed a management style that is straightforward and well-intentioned, approachable and fair with a respect for the intelligence of its employees. Life in many companies is far from being as rosy. Now that we have had an insight into a postive management style that is guaranteed to bring out the best in people, I would like to recommend a contrasting book, which shows what bad management does to the innovative spirit. MANAGEMENT BY VICE is also written 'straight from the gut' of the author with obvious personal experience, who with hilarious humor and no holds barred satire, honestly portrays life in company R&D departments chock full of barriers, bungling and counterproductive management tactics --- typical situations in most companies! However, we can learn much from reading both Jack's marvelous book, from a great manager's perspective, and from 'behind-the-bench', the innovators' view-point of management. I highly recommend both books and only wish there were more managers like Jack out there...perhaps after reading Jack's book there will be!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am glad that I read Mr. Welch's book and appreciated that he was generous in sharing the success of GE with so many individuals, and I thought that he was honest calling himself to account about GE failures. I wanted to read about his business skills, and I learned from the book. I would have enjoyed his diving deep with more color (not gossip) regarding his personal life in the book. It took more than a few sentences for his wives and children to be his support team. Maybe there is a book in the works titled JANE.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thank goodness Jack gave his mom credit where credit was due. Wished there was a little more on specific transactions of business plans but still great. Hopefully, women will buy and read the book as well. All females contributed in part to the success of GE - don't forget that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is very inspiring -- not only for corporate guys but also for those people aspiring for quality, perfection and great leadership. I hope my six-year-old kid could do better than Jack Welch did!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Review Summary: This autobiography of Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, primarily focuses on the key initiatives (such as focusing on businesses with #1 or #2 market shares, selecting the best executive prospects, creating a learning organization, expanding GE Capital, Six Sigma, e-business development, and the attempted acquisition of Honeywell) during his tenure as CEO. The key principles behind his successful management style are spread throughout the book and summarized in part of chapter 24, ¿What This CEO Thing Is All About.¿ In most chapters, he briefly highlights the history and thinking that led to the initiative, shares a few examples of what went right and wrong, explains what his thoughts were while the initiative was occurring, and provides a scorecard for GE¿s performance. What will be new to most people are a deeper exposure to his communications style, a balancing of what the popular press has said about events during his tenure, and a stronger flavor of his focus on improving the quality of GE¿s management teams. The roots of his successful approaches will be easily found in the example of his mother, and his early experiences at GE. Those who are looking for a management book will be disappointed in the volume. Readers who want a lot more detail on the specific successes will often be disappointed as well. The book is very candid, but typically operates at a pretty superficial level. Review: The bulk of this book is framed by the experience of being welcomed with ¿Congratulations, Mr. Chairman!¿ and given a hug by his predecessor, Reg Jones, and doing the same for his successor, Jeff Immelt. Jack Welch feels that in between those events he helped create ¿the greatest people factory in the world, a learning enterprise with a boundaryless culture.¿ In looking back on his role, he sees it as being 75 percent about people, and 25 percent about everything else. He notes in his opening remarks to ¿please remember that every time you see the word I in these pages, it refers to all those colleagues and friends [as well] . . . .¿ The author¿s profits from this book are being donated to charity. As someone who made his share of mistakes along the way (including blowing up a small chemical factory with an experiment early in his tenure at GE), Dr. Welch is aware of the need to recognize those who take big swings and miss the ball. Having grown up in the small plastics business in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, he also strove to create ¿a small company spirit in a big-company body.¿ His characterizations of himself are brutally frank prior to becoming CEO, and less so thereafter. One story that most will remember is how his mother upbraided him in the locker room for throwing his stick after the team lost its seventh straight hockey game in overtime. ¿You punk, if you don¿t know how to lose, you¿ll never know how to win.¿ As a young man at GE he says, ¿I was brutally honest and outspoken. I was impatient and, to many, abrasive . . . [which included being] earthy, loud, and excitable.¿ Throughout the experience at GE, he feels that ¿I never changed who I was.¿ He offers a lot of arguments for his views that are not always balanced by the views of others. He is defensive about his reputation for cutting jobs, but argues that he was doing what was needed. His self assessment is that ¿I took too long to act.¿ On contamination of the Hudson by PCBs, he is proud of GE¿s record and feels victimized by government. He asserts that all evidence to the contrary is just plain wrong. What is my view of the most positive legacy of Jack Welch, after reading this book? He made important contributions in at least these areas: (1) Creating a helpful model for how to locate, encourage, and develop managers with the right values and the ability to deliver good business results. (2) Showing how to develop a financial services business from a manufacturin
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's certainly what I thought a book by Jack Welch would be...self-impressed, self congratulatory with little to no serious introspection. Where's the substance to this guy? Does he have any ability to self reflect and/or any interest in any of the cultural arts? There's certainly no mention throughout. The guy is clearly one dimentional. The recent publicity surrounding the rapaciousness of his retirement package, confirms what I've long held to be true about the guy...he's about lining his own pockets, and lavishly so, embarrassingly so, at the expense of the average GE employee. Don't waste your hard earned money on a book by this joker Jack. You'll get Jack's deal, not the real deal.