Jack Welch the former CEO and Chairman of General Electric passed away on Monday at the age of 84.
Welch who helmed the company for over two decades and turned it into a $ 400 billion organisation, was well known for his business acumen as well as for his propensity to fire people. Over the years, he had been called the manager of the ‘century’. Alongside came the moniker “Neutron Jack”, inspired by his ruthless cost cutting and for opting to slash tens of thousands of jobs.
Born in 1935 to a homemaker and a rail conductor, Welch studied chemical engineering in college. He went on to get his Doctorate from the University of Illinois before joining General Electric in 1960.
Joining the company as a junior chemical engineer, he worked his way up the corporate ladder, becoming the head of the company’s plastics division in 1968, the head of strategic planning in 1973 and senior vice president and head of Consumer Products and Services Division in 1977. He would eventually become the company’s youngest Chairman and CEO in 1981.
According to a CNBC report, Welch brought about many changes during his lengthy tenure with GE. Buying and selling numerous businesses he gradually branched the company out into financial services and consulting. He also believed in simplification and consolidation and managed to decrease the bureaucracy within the company over time.
As he writes in his 2001 book, Jack: Straight From the Gut, he reduced the workforce by around 27% — from 411,000 to 299,000 employees in — in about five years, while at the same time increasing the company’s market capital.
In September 2001, Welch retired. He however remained active for many years after that as a media consultant.
GE however did not fare well after his departure. Take John Flannery who became the CEO in 2017 and lasted roughly a year before he was out “effective immediately”. But even under better managers, the company never quite regained the stature of it heydays under Welch.
Coming to his personal life, Welch was married thrice. He married Carolyn Osburn in 1959 and the couple had four children. Following his divorce in 1987, he was married to a lawyer, Jane Beasley for 13 years. In 2004 he married then Harvard Business Review editor Suzy Wetlaufer. The two had met while she was interviewing Welch for an article.
On Monday President Donald Trump took to Twitter to condole his death, calling the business leader a “legend” who was his “friend and supporter”.
“There was no corporate leader like “neutron” Jack. He was my friend and supporter. We made wonderful deals together,” he added.
“Jack was a lifeforce made of love,” said Suzy Welch was quoted as saying in a statement on Monday by CNBC.
“His irrepressible passion for people, all people, his brilliant curiosity about every-single-thing-on-earth, his gargantuan generosity of spirit toward friends and strangers alike — they added up to a man who was superhuman yet completely human at once,” she wrote.