Jack Welch was an American business magnate, chemical engineer, and writer. He was the chairman and CEO of General Electic (GE) between 1981 to 2001. By the year 2006, Welch’s net worth was estimated at $720 million. When he retired from GE he received a severance payment of $417 million, the largest sum in business history.
Jack was born John Francis Welch Jr. on November 19, 1935, in Peabody, Massachusetts. Jack was the son of Grace (Andrews), a homemaker and John Francis Welch, Sr a Boston & Maine Railroad conductor. Welch was Irish American and Roman catholic and his paternal parents and maternal grandparents were Irish. In his early life in middle school and high school, Welch found work in the summers as a golf caddie, newspaper delivery boy, shoe salesman, and drill press operator. Welch then attended Salem high school, where he participated in baseball, football, and captained the hockey team.
Later in his senior year, Welch was accepted to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studied chemical engineering. Welch worked as a chemical engineer at Sunoco and PPG industries during his college summers. In his Sophomore years, he became a member of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. Welch later graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering, turning down offers from several companies in order to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign. He graduated from the University of Illinois, in1960 with a master’s and Ph.D. in Chemical engineering.
Jack Welch led General Electric through 20 years of its greatest financial success. Welch became CEO of GE in 1981 and led it until his retirement in 2001. However, he had joined GE some decades earlier in 1960 and worked as a junior chemical engineer in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. When he joined the company he obtained a salary of $10500 equivalent to approximately $100000 in 2020 dollars. According to BBC, he was once named, “manager of the century” for his achievements at GE. By the year 1961, Jack was dissatisfied with the raise offered at GE and was unhappy with the bureaucracy and he thus planned to quit his job as a junior engineer. Rueben Gutoff persuaded him to remain at GE after promising Jack that he would help create the small-company atmosphere that Welch desired. The company would then experience an explosion in 1963 which was under his management and he was almost fired for that episode.
When he finally became the CEO he sought to streamline GE and under his leadership, the company increased market value from $12 billion in 1981 to $410 billion, an increase of more than 2700 %, during those 20 years. when he retired making 600 acquisitions while shifting into emerging markets. Jack was also dubbed “neutron Jack” in reference to the neutron bomb for eliminating employees while leaving buildings intact.
Jack also made GE’s youngest vice-president in 1972, and he later became the Vice Chairman in 1979. Jack was known for his focus on straight talk, efficiency, and streamlined bureaucracy. He would regularly cull the lowest-performing 10% of staff each year. “The underperformers generally have to go,” he wrote in one of his books.
Welch married his first wife Carolyn and together they had four children. They divorced in 1987 after 28 years of marriage. His second wife, Jane Beasley, was a former mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer. She married Welch in April 1989, and they divorced in 2003. While Welch had crafted a prenuptial agreement, Beasley insisted on a ten-year time limit to its applicability, and thus she was able to leave the marriage reportedly with around $180 million.
Welch third wife, Suzy Wetlaufer (nee Spring) with whom he co-authored his 2005 book winning as Suzy Welch. She served briefly as the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review. Welch’s wife at the time, Jane Beasley, found out about an affair between Wetlaufer and Welch and she informed the review with Wetlaufer forced to resign in early 2002 admitting to the affair with Welch while preparing an interview with him for the magazine. They married on April 24, 2004.
Beginning in January 2012, Welch and Suzy Welch wrote a biweekly column for Reuters and Fortune which they both left on October 9, 2012, after an article critical of Welch and his GE career was published by Fortune.
Before his death, Welch identified as a republican. He died from kidney failure at his home in Manhattan on March 1, 2020, at age 84. The United States President Donald Trump tweeted, “Jack Welch, former Chairman, and CEO GE, a business legend has died. There was no corporate leader like “neutron” Jack. He was my friend and supporter. We made wonderful deals together. He will never be forgotten. My warmest sympathies to his wonderful wife and family.”
Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of GE, a business legend, has died. There was no corporate leader like “neutron” Jack. He was my friend and supporter. We made wonderful deals together. He will never be forgotten. My warmest sympathies to his wonderful wife & family!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2020
Jack instilled a lasting legacy in GE called boundaryless and he called such a company a “boundaryless company” and his legacy will be remembered for many years to come.
GE CEO Larry Culp said in a statement. “Today is a sad day for the entire GE family. Jack was larger than life and the heart of GE for half a century. He reshaped the face of our company and the business world. Jack was a strong and constant influence throughout my career despite never having worked directly for him.”