Suzy Welch's Big Strategic Thought

Her new book lays out a system of assessing the consequences of decisionsin business and in life
Suzy Welch Brad Trent

Suzy Welch, who pens The Welch Way column in this magazine every week with her husband, Jack Welch, has just released her first solo book. Dubbed 10-10-10, it explores a decision-making tool she developed 13 years ago during a disastrous business trip to Hawaii with her 5- and 6-year-old children. (The highlights of which include one child's sun poisoning, insomnia, and offspring in hula skirts bursting in on her speech.) When faced with choices, Welch now stops to consider the consequences within the next 10 minutes, in 10 months, and in 10 years. She spoke with Senior Editor Diane Brady.

DIANE BRADY

Along with the stories of others, you share a lot of your own experience, from the decision to leave your first marriage to revealing moments with Jack and your four kids. Did you 10-10-10 how much of yourself to put in this book?

SUZY WELCH

Everybody in the book gave of themselves. I felt it would be this weird sleight of hand for them to be pouring their hearts out and for me to be cagey about my own story. It's hard for me to explain 10-10-10 without going into my own life.

What part of the equation do people tend to ignore?Many people live in that 10-minute phase. I have a friend who's a fantastic psychiatrist who travels at all times with a candy bar in her purse because she doesn't want her kids to get mad at her. Then there are people who live for some distant future and never live in the moment. I think it's that middle 10—the 10 months—that we often don't bring into consideration. But you have to look at all three.

Take a guy on Wall Street who put his company at risk with, say, credit default swaps. He could think: In 10 minutes, I'll get praise from my boss; in 10 months, I'll have a million-dollar bonus; and in 10 years, the whole system may blow up, but that's not my problem.I don't know what was going on in the minds of those guys. I don't think they stared coldly into the face of the consequences of what they were doing.

Is there anything in the current environment that makes you think, I wish people would stop and 10-10-10 this?I wish there were a 10-10-10 conversation about the deficit and the economic policies being put in place. One side is talking all about the next 10 minutes. The other side is talking only about the next 10 years. I wish both sides would sit down and talk it over. Then the ones who accuse the others of being socialist could talk about their plan for the next 10 years. And the people who say, "What about the America you're creating?" could address what to do for the next 10 minutes and 10 months. People aren't having a conversation based on all the relevant time frames.

Everyone in business is nervous about the next 10 months. So how do you 10-10-10 that?When it comes to resource allocation, 10-10-10 is a great managerial tool. In 10 minutes, you might be having extreme cash-flow problems. In 10 months, it's probably not going to be much better, so you have to prepare for that. And thinking about the next 10 years allows you to imagine what kind of company you want to be. Of course, that's not going to make the people being laid off feel better. But there are people who remain in your organization. They need to know where you're going. Using 10-10-10 may at least help you get on the same page. It allows you to be more strategic.

Any good 10-10-10 decisions you've made lately?My daughter Sophia, who's in college in Miami, wanted very much to come up for the launch of the book. She was thinking of blowing off her classes to come. So we got on the phone—Jack on one extension, me on the other—and we all came to the decision that it would be better for her to stay in Miami, and we would do something special when the book tour got there.

I also had a moment, about a month before my deadline, when I decided I had to stop writing the book. It all seemed too much. Nobody was happy. I remember Jack saying, "It's been a long time since I saw you smile." So I went into the bedroom one night while Jack was watching a game on TV and said, "I'm quitting the book." He looked up and said, "Let's 10-10-10 it." I said, "No, I don't want to. I made my decision." So he turned off the TV to talk about it.

During a game?I know. He didn't even mute it. He led the discussion because I was a wreck. Halfway through, I got a pit in my stomach because I knew I was making the wrong decision. We got to the end, and I knew I had to forge on.

I wonder how much 10-10-10 would have affected Jack's decisions at General Electric (GE).I think he used it as a chief executive. We actually talk about it. Good managers 10-10-10 all the time. They don't have a name for it, and maybe they don't use it as often as they should. But they do it.

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