Straight From The Gut by Jack Welch

Jack Welch could well be called as the first major disrupter in Global Management. I often feel he may have, in his humongous career spanning 20 years, unsettled many a Management Guru in his grave and freaked out several more CEOs in their tall chairs. Such was the impact of his management style, that he is quoted and cited with as much fervor even today, as back then. A clear indicator of a leader’s leadership impact is the networth of a company before and after he takes over.

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4/5

Author : Jack Welch
Originally Published : 2008
Publication : Grand Central Publishing
Pages : 496
Genre(s) : Biography, Autobiography

On this count, Welch again gives shivers to his counterparts- the net worth of GE was $12 Billion when he took over in 1981 and when he stepped down in 2001, it had grown to a massive $410 Billion.

This book is a peek into the life of the maverick who was shrewd enough to offer the informality of work loved by employees while deftly closing deals and achieving targets with his same team to keep the top-lines burgeoning. The book begins with Welch clarifying that when he refers to the word ‘I’, which he hates to, he actually means ‘We’.

The book opens with Jack Welch welcoming his successor Jeff Immelt as the new CEO of General Electric. We get a peek into the succession planning process. Glimpses of his own assessment of himself are rampant throughout the book. That of he being a round peg in a square hole (that odd man with too much disruption in a traditional company). That he never changed who he was to conform to expectations from his company. He has been criticized for his decisions and lauded in double measures for his remarkable feats. The secret to Welch’s ingenious leadership style, according to me, lay in his upbringing. Born to hard working parents, this energetic boy never shied to do any work to earn some bucks. Welch owes a lot to his mother who shaped his persona and made him competitive. He had a stammer, his parents were middle class, but his confidence was sky high. He read everything from an early age. He did menial jobs as he studied to be a chemical engineer. And then being hired by GE as a young PhD. Being himself earned him his quick promotions.

Jack as a leader, put his employees constantly at the edge, giving them targets, celebrating successes (GE did 600 plus acquisitions under Welch). The book is full of anecdotes and facts that soon you lose count of them, unless you keep a book. His hiring mistakes (initially he hired people on appearances, but soon learnt from his mistakes), With every move, be it changing homes from Pittsburg to Fairfield, or positions, we see him grow and how. He took every opportunity to make heroes out of people who were not obviously Welch disciples, stirred the circles. His decision to sack one out of four people working at GE earned him the moniker Neutron Jack. Welch introduced the system of employee engagement- building gyms and recreation centers and organizing retreats at resorts, something unheard and unfathomable- for spending on something that didn’t obviously earned anything. Beginning with plastics, then appliances, to electric and finance, Welch took the company to new heights in a few years- mainly by understanding things the way they are- his mother had told him, don’t kid yourself! He understood people’s potential like no other and believed that the right people can make all the difference.

GE won many feats under Welch, including winning lawsuits for its chemicals polluting waters. Welch’s Vitality curve is still discussed, for its unique stance on the top 20% and the bottom 10% being insignificant as compared to the middle 70% when it came to achieving long term. Those were the famous ‘A-B-C’ players, a term still used in performance appraisals. The A’s must be cajoled and cared, the B’s must be encouraged while the C’s must go, it was as simple as that. Jack managed to up the fortunes of GE like no other. His personality reflects in his decisions and his life choices, as in his business savvy mind. This book changes your perspective about how businesses can be done as an entrepreneur while being an employee.

Key takeaways

  1. Keep a book besides as you read this book. I did this several years ago and go through it every few days
  2. Just do it, but think about consequences. Jack’s personality is shaped in the early years when impossible was nothing for him.
  3. Put your weakness to your advantage. Use every possible opportunity, create if none exist
  4. Manage people wisely, they make the best investment

Why I recommend this book

Read this book even if you follow Jack and Suzy Welch’s later programs for leadership through the Jack Welch Management Institute. Read it in awe of the maverick who tried every ace up his sleeve to make his GE into what it became. Highly recommend to be discussed with others who have read him and followed his leadership style. Take the nuggets from each of his life episodes and remember his demise as another loss in 2020, before you take on the new year!