How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

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Monday, May 02, 2005

'Jack: Straight from the Gut'

I read this autobiography of the legendary Jack Welch (co-writer: John Byrne, Warner Books, 2001), chairman of GE for 2 decades, recently. It is a large book written in a typically American informal style. It is difficult to note all of the numerous things that are notable in the book, but here's just a quick overview:

The book is divided into five parts. The first part, 'The Early Years', traces Welch's childhood, the great influence of his mother on his personal qualities, the building of his self-confidence, his early years at GE, and then his relatively quick rise to the top position. The section ends with a fascinating description of the elaborate succession process devised by Welch's predecessor - another legend, Reg Jones.
The second part, 'Building a Philosophy', describes his years as CEO, concentrating on his vision for the organization, the famous strategy of being the No. 1 or No. 2 in every business, the difficult years when he was dubbed 'Neutron Jack', the acquisition of RCA, etc. In this section, and indeed throughout the book, one may note that Welch truly based most of his decisions on a few principles and values.
The third part, 'Ups and Downs', describes various businesses that made it big (GE Capital and NBC) while describing failed ventures like the acquisition of the investment bank Kidder, Peabody. Here, he goes into too much detail, and it becomes a bit difficult to share his enthusiasm for the events described. His description of the Kidder scam and its aftermath is fascinating - one of the relatively few brushes with government that he had in his career.
The fourth part, 'Game Changers', describes four big initiatives that GE began in the 1990s, viz. globalization, the services business, Six Sigma and e-business. Here we see how he personally championed each of the initiatives and drove it through the organization.
The fifth part, Looking back, Looking forward', first describes the attempt to buy Honeywell and the frustrating experience with the European Commission antitrust committee. Then he includes a wonderful chapter in which he summarizes all the major principles, values, and practices that he used throughout his career.

Overall, the book is a must-read for any student of management, and a very good read for the layperson as well. We realise how difficult a job it is to manage a behemoth like GE, and yet how, with a few core values and personal attributes, Welch excelled in that job. Here we see that the usually 'global' statement "Our people are our greatest assets" is actually lived in the company. Above all, Welch is a people-leader, and his greatest contribution to GE comes in the form of harnessing great talent from everywhere in the world in GE and inspiring them with his own example to excel in their jobs.

3 Comments:

Blogger ASHOK VAISHNAV said...

Reading such books-"technical autobiographies - is certainly an enriching, though vicarious, experience.
Suggest prepare a full scale presentation oh his principles, values etc.,which would enable large scale sharing and also record for posterity.
Also MUST read, for management "students", is Peter Drucker, management professor/ practicenor/thinker and scientist.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Tadatmya Vaishnav said...

Actually, the principles, values and practices of Welch are captured specifically in 'Jack Welch and the GE Way'...so I will try to get hold of that book in the library...

8:55 PM  
Blogger Samrat said...

"GE Way" is also a crisply written book. Talks about the same things, 1-2, divestments, services biz GE Caps, six-sigma, e-biz etc, but in more business like manner.

Drucker is the guru of the mgmt gurus :).

11:23 PM  

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