Jack Welch, the former chief executive officer of General Electric who led the company through two decades of its greatest financial success, has died of renal failure, his wife said Monday. He was 84.
General Electric’s roots run deep, with Thomas Edison and John Pierpont Morgan as influential early leaders, but it was Welch who presided over the company’s greatest successes, The Wall Street Journal reported.
During Welch’s tenure as CEO beginning in 1981, General Electric’s revenue jumped nearly fivefold, to $130 billion, The New York Times reported. Values of GE stock rose from $14 billion in 1981 to more than $410 billion in 2001, when Welch stepped down, the newspaper reported.
“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,” General Electric CEO Larry Culp said in a statement. “We’ll continue to honor his legacy by doing exactly what Jack would want us to do: win.”
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences, saying "There was no corporate leader like ‘neutron’ Jack.”
Welch attained his “Neutron Jack” nickname after he eliminated 100,000 jobs during the early years of his stewardship and insisted managers fire their worst performers, The Wall Street Journal reported. He pressured managers to find ways to make the company more efficient, the newspaper reported.
“My job is not to know everything about each business,” Welch told The Wall Street Journal in 1999. “It is to pick the people who will run the business and to decide how much money business A versus business B or C gets.”
Welch received a record severance payment of $417 million when he retired, the Times reported. Fortune magazine named him the “Manager of the Century,” and in 2000 The Financial Times named G.E. “The World’s Most Respected Company” for the third straight year, the newspaper reported.
“He had a tremendous focus on shareholder value,” Jeff Sonnenfeld, a Yale business professor and founder and president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute, told CNN.
“He was an incredible leader who drove communication from the top to every employee,” Wendy Peters, who worked in accounting and customer relations roles at GE for 15 years, told the newspaper.
Still, some former employees pointed to Welch’s in-your-face style.
Former GE executive Ralph D. Ketchum told The Wall Street Journal in 1988 that, “You can’t even say hello to Jack without it being confrontational."
John Francis Welch Jr., was born Nov. 19, 1935, and grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, the newspaper reported. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a master’s and a doctorate in the same subject from the University of Illinois.
At 24, Welch joined GE in 1960 as an engineer in the plastics division, The Wall Street Journal reported. He became that division’s general manager in 1968, then became vice president of GE in 1972, the newspaper reported. Welch was promoted to senior vice president in 1977 and vice chairman in 1979.
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