Friday, October 14, 2005
JACK WELCH SPEAKS: Wisdom from the World's Greatest Business Leader by
MOST Americans know who Jack Welch is but his leadership is a behind closed door subject for many years. And now the man himself speaks, and there's a lot he wants to say. Hear him out!
WOULD you listen to a man who has been described as `the most acclaimed
SOB of the 1980s'? He also runs a company that employs about 240,000
people. In 1997, the company's market capitalisation was US$200 billion
(RM760 billion) - the first firm of its kind to achieve such a feat in the
world. His company is General Electric and his name is Jack Welch.
When a person of such stature struts into a room and speaks for whatever
reason, most people will sit up and listen.
In this book, GE chairman and chief executive officer Jack Welch talks a
lot. Obviously, he has a right to and he has plenty to say. The character
of Welch brings to mind another fellow American who was just as outspoken
and dynamic. That person is Lee Iaccoca, the former president of Chrysler.
One of the memorable quotations from Welch is, "We are going to demand
from you earnings growth every year. Those are the rules of the road. You
take charge of your destiny. If you don't, we will.'
Depending on the individual, an employee who hears this remark will
either tremble in fear, or idolise his new hero.
Janet Lowe, who also wrote Warren Buffet Speaks, has not pulled any
punches. She covers the many good sides of the General Electric CEO and
exposes some of the negative aspects as well.
In 1985, federal prosecutors in Philadelphia charged General Electric's
Re-Entry Systems with 108 counts of criminal fraud. The prosecutors
claimed that GE executives responsible for a new nose cone for the Air
Force's Minuteman Missile system had altered workers' time cards, cheating
the US government of US$800,000.
Initially, GE pleaded not guilty. However, on further investigations, GE
eventually admitted wrongdoing.
Welch's reaction to the episode: `The most gut-wrenching thing was being
battered in the defence scandal. It hurt, it hurt a lot. We love this
place and somebody was throwing stones at it. We went down a lot of paths
(figuring out what happened). It takes a long time because (people) come
in with arguments about the complexity of government rules and a lot of
other things. Then we got to the point where we concluded that someone did
cheat, someone did try to beat the system. Until we got to that point, we
were chasing ourselves around in a circle. But it isn't the government's
fault. It's basic integrity.'
Then in 1991, another scandal erupted. Edward Russell was sacked as head
of GE's diamond unit by Welch. Russell's reaction was to visit the Federal
Bureau of Investigation's office concerning GE's alleged involvement with
a Swiss subsidiary of the De Beers Group in fixing prices on industrial
In 1992, Russell also sued GE for wrongful dismissal. The outcome was
the dismissal charge was thrown out and a third charge was settled out of
court between Russell and GE. Russell eventually signed an affidavit
saying his sacking was unrelated to price-fixing and he had no personal
knowledge of any anti-trust wrongdoing.
Welch later said, `Whether it was a price-fixing scandal in the 1960s, a
bribery case in the 1970s, or a defence timecard issue in the 1980s, a
company of 300,000 to 400,000 people always has to be vigilant. All the
practices and all the paper in the world will never stop one or two
individuals from going outside the corral. Our job - everybody's job - is
to talk integrity, preach integrity, and in every instance, live
For more than 17 years, Welch has been at the helm of one of the best
run companies in the world. When he graduated from the University of
Illinois in 1960 with a PhD in chemical engineering, Welch had three job
offers on his table. Destiny must have planned something really special
for him because he picked GE for personal reasons.
From this book, one forms the impression that Welch is an extremely
confident CEO who not only talks fast but also with great candour. Welch
said, `Managing success is a tough job. There's a very fine line between
self-confidence and arrogance. Success breeds both, along with a
reluctance to change.'
Jack Welch Speaks is an enormously fun book to read. Welch is not your
ordinary, run-of-the-mill corporate chairman. Words from his mouth spew
out like bullets from an overactive AK-47. Those who are on the receiving
end of those fast-moving words can sometimes feel their piercing message.
Consider his philosophy of work: `If someone tells me, "I'm working 90
hours a week," I say, "You are doing something terribly wrong." I go
skiing on the weekend, I go out with my buddies on Friday and party.
You've got to do the same or you've got a bad deal.'
Lowe's latest book on one of America's foremost CEOs is one which you
would want to read if you are in dire need of that `pick-me-up' feeling.
Quotations from Jack Welch's awesome arsenal of quotes can inspire most
budding executives who may have had a long, hard day at the office.
Jack Welch Speaks deserves at least two readings. Read it the first time
in one sitting. According to Welch, `Speed is everything. It is the
indispensable ingredient in competitiveness. Speed keeps business and
people young. It's addictive, and it's a profoundly American taste we need
Some of Welch's quotes are good enough to be copied and then put up on
your personal noticeboard. The chairman of GE can sometimes be profound
and at times, fun. This book is both.