“Jack” by Jack Welsh with John Byrne

Synopsis

Jack is the autobiography of one of America’s most revered and prominent business leaders, Jack Welch. The book largely focuses on his working life at General Electric (GE), starting in 1960 when he was hired as a young engineer in a chemical development operation, and follows his rise within the company. Welch became CEO of GE in 1981, imposing his unique management style, and implementing grand initiatives that would eventually take GE global.

Lessons

On thinking…

Welsh graduated from the University of Illinois with a PhD in Chemical Engineering. He says chemical engineering taught him that there is “no finite answer to many questions”, and instead, what is more important is your thought process. He says this is particularly true for business where there are rarely black-or-white answers.

On brainstorming and dialogue…

Welsh regularly spent time with teams fleshing out ideas or deals. He says if an idea couldn’t survive a no-holds-barred discussion, the marketplace would kill it. Perhaps this quote sums it up best:

“For me, wallowing has always been a key part of how we ran GE. Get a group of people around a table, regardless of their rank, to wrestle with a particularly tough issue. Stew on it from every angle – flush out everyone’s thinking – but don’t come to an immediate conclusion.”

On self-confidence…

“Arrogance is a killer, and wearing ambition on one’s sleeve can have the same effect. There is a fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. Legitimate self-confidence is a winner. The true test of self-confidence is the courage to be open – to welcome change and ideas regardless of their source. Self-confident people aren’t afraid to have their views challenged. They relish the intellectual combat that enriches ideas. They determine the ultimate openness of an organisation and its ability to learn. How do you find them? By seeking out people who are comfortable in their own skin – people who like who they are and are never afraid to show it.”

When choosing Jeff Immelt as his successor, Welsh said, “ [he] had the perfect blend of intelligence and edge and epitomized the trait that’s so important to me – he was really comfortable in his own skin.”

Quotes

“Finding great people happens in all kinds of ways”, and I’ve always believed “Everyone you meet is another interview.”

“Losing an A [employee] is a sin. Love ‘em, hug ‘em, kiss ‘em, don’t lose them! We conduct post-mortems on every A we lose and hold management accountable for those losses.”

Welch says many of his early hiring mistakes reflected his own prejudices; for example, hiring based on appearance or school (university). He goes on to state that résumés aren’t a good indicator of inner hunger, the willingness to commit, the candidate’s intensity, or passion.

Something interesting

In 1999, Welsh asked the top 500 GE leaders to get Internet mentors, “preferably under the age of 30.”

Welsh offered Jerry Seinfeld $100 million in GE stock to stay on for a ninth season of Seinfeld (Seinfeld was a hit sitcom on NBC, owned by GE). Jerry Seinfeld declined the offer.

The International Olympic Committee gave NBC the broadcast rights to televise the Summer Olympics in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).

Getting to Six Sigma quality level means that you have fewer than 3.4 defects per million operations in a manufacturing or service process.

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