Jack Welch came to fame in the business world through his management success and skills during his many years at General Electric. Welch was able to turn the struggling slow moving giant of a company into a dynamic growth company that became revered by many. Welch increased the value of the company from $13 billion to several hundred billion during his 20 years of leadership at General Electric (GE).
Jack Welch was born on November 19, 1935 in Peabody, Massachusetts to John, a Boston & Maine Railroad conductor, and Grace, a housewife. Jack Welch attended Salem High School and later the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering. After graduation Welch went on to receive his M.S. and Ph.D at the University of Illinois in 1960.
In 1960 Jack Welch joined General Electric. He first worked as a junior engineer in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with a salary of $10,500 annually. Welch became unhappy and was displeased with the $1,000 raise he was offered after his first year, as well as the strict bureaucracy within GE. He began planning to leave the company to work with International Minerals & Chemicals in Skokie, Illinois. But a young executive just two levels above Welch convinced him to stay and give GE a chance. Welch reluctantly agreed but quickly worked his way up through the ranks where he became GE’s youngest chairman and CEO in 1981, after succeeding Reginald H. Jones. Welch set to work and by 1982, he had disassembled much of the earlier management team put together by Jones.
During his 20 year reign of General Electric, Jack Welch’s management skills became almost legendary. He had a no nonsense leadership style that gave him a reputation of being hard, even ruthless, but he was also fair when making business decisions. Welch had little time and patience for bureaucracy and archaic business ways. If his managers did not change they were replaced with someone that could change. Managers were given free reign to do as they liked as long as they followed the GE ethic of constant change and striving to do better. He strove to run GE like a small dynamic business that was able to change as opportunities arose or when a business becomes unprofitable.
In his pursuit to change and streamline the General Electric giant Welch earned his share of criticism when he was given the nickname of Neutron Jack. During his reign more than 100,000 GE employees had their jobs taken from them. It was his ideal that GE businesses had to be the best performing business in their field or they were sold.
General Electric saw enormous growth and expansion under Jack Welch’s leadership. Through streamlining operations, acquiring new businesses, and ensuring that each business under the GE umbrella was one of the best in its field the company experienced dramatic expansion from 1981 to 2001. While his management tactics tend to elicit a love/hate relationship there is no denying that Jack Welsh had a major impact on both GE and the entire manufacturing industry even to this day. Since retiring from his role as the GE Chairman in 2001 Welch went to write his best selling memoir “Jack, Straight from the Gut” and consults with several Fortune 500 businesses.
He had four children with his first wife, Carolyn. They divorced amicably in April 1987 after 28 years of marriage. His second wife, former mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer was Jane Beasley. She married Jack Welsh in April 1989, and they divorced in 2003. The divorce was highly publicized sine Welch had crafted a prenuptial agreement, but Beasley insisted on a ten-year time limit to its applicability, and thus she was able to leave the marriage with an amount believed to be in the range of $180 million. The third wife of Jack Welch is Suzy Wetlaufer, a former editor of Harvard Business Review. Wetlaufer served briefly as the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review before being forced to resign in early 2002. Her resignation came after admitting to having been involved in an affair with Welch while preparing an interview with him for the magazine.
Welch underwent sucessful triple bypass surgery in May 1995. After his recovery he has spent his time consulting, indulging his interest in modern art, international travel, teaching and attending Red Sox games. Welch is a strong believer in management education. In September 2006, Jack Welch began teaching a class at the MIT Sloan School of Management to a hand-picked group of 30 students with a demonstrated career interest in leadership. Welch’s net worth is estimated today at $720 million dollars.