Jack Welch – a complex man with a complex legacy

Jack Welch – a complex man with a complex legacy

The first and only time I met Jack Welch was in early November of 2017. He was at Sacred Heart University to visit the College of Business, which bears his name.  As a trustee of the University, I had come out to greet the legendary titan of industry.

Welch was complex. He was plain-spoken, but that’s where simplicity ended. Small in stature, all 5’8” of him, his presence could suck all the oxygen out of a room as he entered. He ran GE by the numbers, though he freely admitted he was “60% gut, 40% data” in his decision-making.

He was Darwinian to the core – only the fittest survived – and he made brilliant moves. During his 20-year reign leading GE, the company’s market value grew exponentially by some 2,700%. And he built GE Capital, the financial services arm of GE, creating a banking powerhouse. Yet, the collapse of GE Capital in 2008 nearly brought down the entire company.

Jack Welch had massive influence on an entire generation of managers, thought leaders, academics and consultants. He taught us to strive for continuous improvement in whatever we undertook, and to dispense with mediocrity. Though business consultant Jim Collins coined the phrase, “Good is the enemy of great,” Jack Welch was the leader who demonstrated the truth of those words.
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