March 3, 2020
Decades before Fortune magazine called Jack Welch the “manager of the century,” he was laying the foundation of his no-nonsense leadership style in a gravel pit in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts. The place doubled as an impromptu baseball field where Welch and other kids from the neighborhood would play ball after school. “There was a fight almost every day,” Larry McIntire, who used to play in the pit and later became Salem’s parks superintendent, told The New York Times. “I can still picture him jawing with a guy one and a half times his size. Welch stands square in front of the guy yelling, ‘It’s our turn. Losers out.’”
When Welch took the helm of GE in 1981, he built the company’s own version of the pit at GE’s corporate learning campus in Crotonville, New York. The Pit became the axis of the campus and a place where Welch would come every other week and mold a generation of managers who helped him turn GE into the world’s most valuable company. Some of them then went on to run other iconic corporations. “As the most widely admired, studied, and imitated CEO of his time, Welch has enriched not only GE’s shareholders but also the shareholders of companies around the globe,” Geoffrey Colvin wrote in Fortune in 1999. “His total economic impact is impossible to calculate but must be a staggering multiple of his GE performance.”
The Pit is still there, but Welch is no longer with us. The man who led GE for 20 years, and became known as one of America’s most successful chief executives, died Sunday at 84.
A career for the ages: Candid and direct, Welch became the chief executive of GE when the company’s stock price was not growing, and its market capitalization hovered around $14 billion. When he retired two decades later, it stood at more than $410 billion. GE’s revenue grew from nearly $28 billion to $170 billion over the same period. GE CEO Larry Culp led the tributes to Welch on Monday. “Jack was larger than life and the heart of GE for half a century,” Culp said. “He reshaped the face of our company and the business world.” Culp also shared his last memory of Welch: “He asked me, ‘So how exactly are you running the company?’ Jack was still in it: committed to GE’s success.”
Learn more here about Jack Welch’s remarkable life and career.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT JACK WELCH
Thomas Cooke, professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business: “When the book about business leaders in this century is written, Jack Welch will be near the very top. What he did as the leader of GE was remarkable.”
Jeff Immelt, former GE chairman and CEO: “From the first day I joined GE, I felt like I worked for Jack Welch, and that was all right by me. He was a brilliant, aspirational leader. Jack was always direct, but his frankness was appealing and effective. His informality and accessibility made GE a team — we all loved working for him because he wanted the people around him to succeed. Jack was the best boss I have ever seen.”
Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase: “Personally, I always admired him as a mentor, as a friend and even as a fatherly figure. He really set the standard as a CEO, not just in his performance running the company and as a legendary leader, but in his deep integrity, big heart and strategic vision.”
Ken Langone, co-founder of The Home Depot: “If Jack was anything, Jack was a strong devotee of education, both in GE and after GE. He had a great knack and talent for developing people far beyond what they thought their capabilities were. He was a motivator. He was a fierce competitor, but he was also a compassionate competitor. He understood the importance of a pat on the back. He understood the importance of self-respect.”
John Flannery, former GE chairman and CEO: “On this sad day, we remember and salute not just the greatest CEO of all time — but one of the greatest people you could ever be lucky enough to know.”
David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery: “You know, I was a 28-year-old kid that he brought in to GE when NBC was hoping to get into the cable business, and he was like an older brother to me. There’s thousands of us.”
Quote: GE Reports. Image credit: GE.
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