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Was Jack Welch Really That Good?

General Electric’s legendary CEO was good—but he was also lucky.

Jack Welch.

Jack Welch.

Photographer: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Of all the key moments in Jack Welch’s storied tenure as General Electric Co.’s chief executive officer, there’s one that’s always overlooked. It took place on Friday, Aug. 13, 1982.

Although he’d been CEO for only 16 months, the 46-year-old Welch had already put his stamp on the place. He was blowing up the bureaucracy, eliminating the formalized meetings that had long marked GE’s culture, and installing a blunter, more freewheeling style that prioritized “facing realities” over “superficial congeniality,” as Welch later put it in Jack: Straight From the Gut. He was beginning to execute on his famous dictum that if a GE business wasn’t first or second in its market, it should be sold, fixed, or closed. (In his first two years, Welch sold 71 businesses.) And though he wasn’t yet known as Neutron Jack, the large-scale layoffs that would earn him that nickname were well under way.