Jack Welch’s Protégés “Were Just Cost Cutters”

(p. 8) . . . in more than 100 conversations for “The Man Who Broke Capitalism,” my new book, from which this article is adapted, a broad range of people said some version of the same thing: While it has been more than two decades since Mr. Welch was C.E.O. of G.E., his legacy still affects millions of American households.

. . .

For a time in the early 2000s, five of the top 30 companies in the Dow Jones industrial average were run by men who had worked for Mr. Welch. “That’s why they got hired,” said William Conaty, G.E.’s longtime chief of human resources. “Because they had the playbook. They had the G.E. tool kit. And boards back then thought that was the answer.”

. . .

The Welch protégés who struck out on their own rarely fared well. At Home Depot, Albertson’s, Conseco, Stanley Works and many other companies, the same story seemed to repeat itself ad infinitum.

A G.E. executive was named C.E.O. of another company. News of the appointment sent the stock of that company soaring. The incoming leaders were lavished with riches when they took their new jobs, signing multimillion-dollar contracts that ensured them a gilded retirement, no matter how well they performed. A period of job cuts usually ensued, and profits sometimes rose for a few quarters, or even a few years. But inevitably, morale cratered, the business wobbled, the stock price sank and the Welch disciple was sent packing.

“A lot of G.E. leaders were thought to be business geniuses,” said Bill George, the former C.E.O. of Medtronic. “But they were just cost cutters. And you can’t cost cut your way to prosperity.”

For the full essay, see:

David Gelles. “Jack Welch and the Rise of C.E.O.s Behaving Badly.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, May 22, 2022): 1 & 7-8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated June 27, 2022, and has the title “How Jack Welch’s Reign at G.E. Gave Us Elon Musk’s Twitter Feed.)

The essay quoted above is adapted from Gelles’s book:

Gelles, David. The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America―and How to Undo His Legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster 2022.

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