Former GE CEO says family, growth and
By NORREN GILLESPIE
Jack Welch knows the game.
During his tenure at General Electric as chairman and CEO, Welch set three priorities for himself and the corporation in the game of business: create a family atmosphere, make growth a priority, and always, always win.
His strategy was so successful that it catapulted General Electric — and Welch — to become one of the most respected business leaders in corporate America during his term from 1981 to 2001.
His philosophy was so well received among a standing-room-only crowd in Jordan Auditorium Tuesday night that Welch even received a job offer to work here in South Bend.
"Do you have any head football coaching experience?" one MBA student asked Welch jokingly.
Welch suggested Jon Gruden as a better alternative, but turned the joke into an opportunity to tell the Mendoza College of Business that running a business isn't that much different from sports — it's a game. The teams with the best players and the most drive win, and winning is the objective, according to Welch.
"I think this whole game of business is no different of a game than the game you play across the street," Welch said.
Welch emphasized player development in business leadership. This is accomplished only by having a clear set of values and treating each person individually, he said.
"Every person should be treated fairly in an organization, but every person should be treated differently in an organization," Welch said.
Welch earned both praise and criticism during his term at General Electric. GE spent more than $20 billion on new acquisitions, including the purchase of the National Broadcasting Company, RCA and the Kidder Peabody & Co brokerage firm. While he earned some enemies for what were perceived as tough and ruthless business tactics, GE's market value increased from $16 billion to more than $280 billion under his leadership. He consolidated 150 business units into 12 basic businesses in what he called a "boundary-less" organization to create a corporation that had "a big company body and a small company soul."
It was the shared set of values and a family atmosphere that played the biggest role in the game of success, Welch said.
While Welch was bringing GE to the forefront of corporate culture, he was also careful to make sure the corporation was a player in the community. Welch was seeing the big picture when he instituted inner-city education programs and other community efforts nationwide.
"Do you think those dot-coms that didn't win were teaching in the inner-cities? Losers can't contribute to society ... they're too focused on their own jobs," Welch said.
An effective business leader makes it clear that company values are in place from the top-down, and institutes programs that adhere to those values, he said. If there are members of the team that don't believe in those values, they have to be let go, he said.
"One thing, you have to pray as you go out every night that [the values are] there," Welch said. "You worry most about somebody doing something stupid. We police it ... and when we find it, we don't let them go quietly. We don't say they left GE for personal reasons — we say they didn't agree with the values of the company."
While values allow an organization to win the game, it's also important to celebrate the little victories along the way to success. Allowing a team to celebrate its achievements motivates and builds a better team, according to Welch.
"Great teams are about working together, liking each other, wanting to win, and partying like hell when it's over," Welch said. "It's so critical to an institution — it brings it alive, gives it character. People feel guilty about stopping to celebrate a little victory ... but it lets people know they've won."
A Catholic himself, Welch also said that it is possible to combine Catholic ethics in business culture. It's business that is at the heart of everything — and there are good people running it.
"I have found more bad people in federal and state government than I have ever seen in business," he said. "Business is played by some of the best people in the world."
All News Stories for Wednesday, December 5, 2001