Jack Welch Speaks

Jack Welch Speaks is precisely what its title suggests: a collection of quotations from the chairman of General Electric Corporation (GE), one of the biggest companies in the world.

These quotations are arranged by subject and deal partly with his own life, but mainly with his competitive, ruthless style of management, making it a rather engaging hybrid of biography and business manual.

Welch had already worked for GE for 20 years when in 1981 he took over as chairman and chief executive. Business Week calls him ‘the gold standard by which other CEO’s are measured’.

Why is it worth reading?
However bombastic it may seem to claim on the cover that Welch is the world’s greatest business leader, the book contains plenty of evidence to back up this statement.

When Welch took over in 1981 GE was worth $20bn; by 1998 it was worth $272bn. Welch’s belief is that all companies must grow or die, and that there is no such thing as a saturated market. He is a business genius, and if anybody ever wants to find out how he does it, this book is the prime source.

The main problem with the book is that it reads suspiciously like a hagiography – as if Welch was a saint. Welch can do no wrong, seemingly.

The book does contain a section on ‘Welch’s Critics’ – but this accounts for only six pages out of more than 200. Executives from GE are often quoted in support of his ideas and style and it is only briefly noted that one of the first things that Welch did on being made chairman was to fire everyone who did not agree with him.

Talking points
Welch’s philosophy is that even a multinational like GE can and should be run as though it were a small business whose size can and must keep growing. He therefore demands not only profit, but also growth from all sectors of his company.

He also famously popularized the word downsizing (or rightsizing as Welch now prefers to call it). GE is now worth ten times more than when he took over and has only half as many employees.

Welch insists on cutting things down to their bare skeletons both on the individual and corporate level, and states that if someone is working a 92-hour week, then they must somehow be wasting their time.

As it becomes more and more fashionable to talk about encouraging, motivating and making people happy and relaxed in the workplace, the reader must deal with the fact that Welch’s succeed-or-you’re-fired method has been such a phenomenal success at GE.

‘We are trying to get the soul and energy of a start-up into the body of a $60bn, 114-year-old company.’

‘What business could be mature when you have economies with more than two billion people in India, China, and Southeast Asia?’

‘We’re going to demand from you earnings growth every year…take charge of your destiny. If you don’t, we will.’

What others say
Tom Brokaw, managing editor, NBC (a GE subsidiary): ‘Jack Welch is a management genius who attacks life as he does business – with unconventional flair, a restless intellect, and no tolerance for phoneys. And I’d say that even if he weren’t my boss.’

Ely Callaway, founder and chairman, Callaway Golf:’Jack Welch Speaks shows business at its most fascinating. It gives the reader a valuable insight into the mind and personal philosophy of one of America’s keenest, most effective business leaders.’

Janet Lowe is a journalist and writer whose previous books include Warren Buffet Speaks, Benjamin Graham on Value Investment and Value Investment Made Easy. Lowe has also written extensively for Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times and The Christian Science Monitor.

Jack Welch Speaks, by Janet Lowe, was first published by John Wiley & Sons in 1998. ISBN 0 471 24272 1.

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