Jack: Straight From The Gut by John F. Welch, Jr. Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 08:24:05
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Overview:

An autobiography, Jack: Straight From The Gut provides John F. Welch, Jr. the opportunity to guide us through not only his time spent as Chairman and CEO during a forty-one year career with General Electric (GE), but also his early years, and his family life outside of GE. From his days as a first grader growing up in Salem, Massachusetts playing gin with his beloved mother, to his welcoming of Jeff Immelt as his successor as CEO, Welch describes in fast moving detail his thoughts, feelings, wins, and losses, all in chronological order.

As a child Welch respected and admired his father, but cherished his mother and maintained a bond with her that he references long after her death in 1965. She imparted him with enormous self-confidence and leadership skills that he developed early and kept with him through high school, his undergraduate years at the University of Massachusetts, graduate school at the University of Illinois, and ultimately throughout his time with GE.

As Welch describes his GE career, he conveys many of the characteristics that led to him become CEO. Most notably, he credits his energy, passion, and integrity for his success and emphatically emphasizes that other leaders must search for those same values when building teams and cultivating talent. Along the way Welch highlights his many victories but gives equal time to his mistakes. Above all he notes people as the defining factor in success or failure. In fact, GEs all about finding and building great people, no matter where they come from. Im over the top on lots of issues, but none comes as close to the passion I have for making people GEs core competency.1

Review:

A quick search under Jack Welch on Amazon.com shows eleven different book titles, all of which, in one form or another, spread the wisdom of a man regarded widely as Americas most admired business leader. From that, one might surmise that Jack: Straight From The Gut would follow the recipe for discussion on such GE tenets as: Six Sigma, boundarlyess culture, and globalization. However, though he does spend considerable time on these standard topics, he provides much more in the way of underlying reasons for the success of these programs, and for their derivation. Unlike other books written about Welch, he wrote this one largely by himself and I found it extremely interesting compared to some of the previous efforts of authors trying to capture the essence of both Welch and GE.

Of particular interest was Welchs detailed analysis of Reg Jones selection process in 1980 that led to Welch succeeding him as CEO, versus Welchs own selection process nearly twenty years later for his own replacement. Welch describes in game-like fashion his position of underdog against eight other GE executives under consideration for the job. We were all working our butts off trying to differentiate ourselves.2 Welch ultimately wins the game but vows to himself to select his successor in a different and more fair way, if at all possible.

He would get that chance in a process he began in 1994 when he asked his VP for executive development to put together a list of attributes for the ideal CEO3 The specs were filled with skills and characteristics youd want: integrity/values, experience, vision, leadership, edge, stature, fairness, and enery/balance/courage.

4 Those that filled this criteria totaled 23, but were whittled down to eight serious candidates by 1998. In 2000 Welch formally announced the three final candidates, but took an unprecedented bold step in naming each of their replacements. This ensured that GE would lose two top executives after naming one to become the new CEO, but was done to provide the new leader 100% confidence that he was in charge and would have no reason to have to look over his shoulder. I found the process that named Jeff Immelt CEO and the one that selected Welch in 1980 both fascinating.

Welch delivers his message in a confident and candid manner as one might expect, but quite self-effacing at times which may surprise some readers. He certainly takes credit for, and celebrates victories, but gave equal time in the book, if not more, to his mistakes. As a recent book review in The Wall Street Journal indicates, He lacks standard-issue pomposity and makes plenty of jokes at his own expense.5 From relaying a time early in his career when his new car had a hose spring a leak and ruin his suit and the paint on the car, to bigger mistakes such as the well publicized perceived failure of GEs Kidder Peabody unit, Welch maintains an air of humility and self deprecation throughout the book.

Takeaways:

As an employee of GEs medical division, I enjoy reading about Welch and have read a few other books about him. However, none captivated me as this one did. I expected to find it interesting but had no idea how much so until only a few pages into it. Learning about the boy, the student, the engineer, and the leader who would transform an already successful company into arguably the best company in the world was very entertaining.

For me, working in the GE culture and experiencing it as I have over the past four years gives me a tremendous sense of pride. I understand Welchs vision well when he speaks of, the four Es of GE leadership: very high energy levels, the ability to energize others around common goals, the edge to make tough yes-and-no decisions, and finally, the ability to consistently execute and deliver on their promises.6 I understand what he looks for and strive hard to emulate that image. In my opinion, hearing his basis and rationale for creating this culture further enhances peoples abilities to thrive in it.

My final takeaway involves that of integrity. Welch begins and ends the book with this theme and mentions it many times throughout. Ive heard him mention it many times previously, but he drives it home with such passion and conviction here in his memoirs. I never had two agendas. There was only one way-the straight way.7

With no regrets and apologies to none, the business world certainly has not heard the last of Jack Welch.

Endnotes

1. Jack Welch and John A. Byrne, Jack: Straight From The Gut (New York: Warner Business Books, 2001), 156.

2. Ibid., 79.

3. Ibid., 409.

4. Ibid.

5. Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Life According To Jack Welch, The Wall

Street Journal, 21 September 2001, sec.W, p. 12.

6. Welch, 158.

7. Ibid., 381.

Bibliography

Life According To Jack Welch. The Wall Street Journal, 21 September 2001, sec. W, p. 1.

Welch, Jack, and John A. Byrne. Jack: Straight From The Gut. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

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