Welch Has More to Say. Really
By Diane Brady
By Jack Welch with Suzy Welch
HarperBusiness; 372pp; $27.95
The Good Candid and accessible, aimed at a broad audience
The Bad Welch's basic business tenets have been much dissected
The Bottom Line Dynamic examples and personal reflections make this an appealing read for a range of readers
When Jack Welch retired from General Electric in 2001, much of the world was already familiar with the inner workings of his brain. Of course, Welch is one of the most celebrated corporate leaders of the 20th century, and his beliefs and business strategies have been well-chronicled in dozens of books. He soon released an autobiography, too. So it was hard to imagine that the retired chief executive had that much left to say.
Indeed, Winning -- written with Suzy Welch, his new wife and former editor of Harvard Business Review -- does delve into subjects that can only be described as vintage Welch. For example, there are chapters on the Six Sigma quality push, motivating people, firing them, and creating a culture that thrives on change.
That said, there's much here that might not have been anticipated. His separation from the industrial and financial behemoth -- along with, perhaps, the influence of his co-author -- seems to have done wonders for Welch's perspective. He considers a broad range of topics gleaned from questions posed on the speaking circuit, such as the challenges facing working mothers or how to operate in China's autocratic business culture. He even reflects on his mistakes and comments on current events.
All of this is offered in the breezy, blunt style that was his hallmark at GE (GE ). The result is a guide that's more candid and accessible than earlier works by or about Welch.
Winning has four main sections. The first outlines Welch's basic business philosophy: the need for clear and tangible values, for extreme candor in the workplace, for strong differentiation among employees, and for ways to bring every staffer into the game. While such tenets aren't new, they could hardly be omitted, as they are key to understanding Welch's record at GE.
The next three sections cover winning within a company, against the competition, and over the course of a career. "Your Company" taps most into Welch's sweet spot. Here he lays out his leadership philosophy -- "success is all about growing others" -- and outlines the characteristics that earned him accolades. Ever the teacher, he provides several rules per chapter, elaborating on each one with examples: The 2004 World Series win of his beloved Boston Red Sox shows how leaders must relentlessly upgrade their teams.
Welch also gets into the grit of hiring, talks about the need to give human-resources departments real power, and reiterates his long-held view on the necessity of firing nonperformers on the grounds that all concerned will benefit. He rounds out this section with tips on crisis management, drawn from his own failures.
"Your Competition" initially seems intended for ambitious managers. But all readers will discover value in Welch's iconoclastic take on such themes as strategy and budgeting. What elevates these chapters above the usual trite tips is Welch's success in reshaping GE's business model.
Budgets, he argues, should be less about making your numbers and living within your means than beating last year's performance and besting competitors whom you truly understand. New projects can wither without hungry leaders, top-level cheerleading, and true freedom. Welch has a provocative gloss on the pitfalls of mergers, and he even renders Six Sigma palatable.
The section that may appeal to the most readers is "Your Career." There's a clear-cut analysis of how to find the right job, along with a consideration of how to get promoted. But the most fascinating bit concerns work-life balance, a subject that rarely hit Welch's radar at GE -- which may help to explain the dearth of women in his senior ranks.
Welch admits to being a lousy father with little concern for others' family responsibilities. What distinguishes this account is its frank axiom: Flexibility on the job is something you earn via superior performance. As he puts it: "Even the most accommodating bosses believe that work-life balance is your problem to solve." If they're passionate about you, they'll adapt to your needs. Tough, maybe, but true.
The merit of each section depends, of course, on the reader's situation. Welch has aimed broadly -- hoping to woo everyone from the success-hungry college grad to the senior-level executive. That's ambitious. Fortunately, he keeps the interest level high by interweaving common-sense strategies with dynamic examples and personal reflection.
Winning ends with a string of quirky questions people have thrown at Welch over the years, such as: Do you plan to enter politics? (Never.) How's your golf game? (He has stopped playing because of back problems.) Do you think you will go to heaven? (He'd rather not find out anytime soon.)
Such stuff seems tangential, but its inclusion should be no surprise -- this is, after all, Jack Welch. While his star may have faded amid publicity of his divorce and lavish retirement package, he still revels in the spotlight. Luckily, Welch seems to have more insights and wisdom to share.
Brady is a senior writer for BusinessWeek in New York