published Monday, October 22, 2001
ponderous, self-aggrandizing tome from the
former GE Chairman.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Straight From The Gut? Unfortunately, this thing might have emerged
from the wrong end of the author's alimentary canal. Those seeking
insight and wisdom from the trials, tribulations and machinations
of celebrated former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch will have
to look elsewhere.
The genesis of this book, Welch says, occurred in 1998 with a profile
of him by Business Week writer John Byrne (not the fantasy writer
of the same name, unfortunately). Byrne's laudatory piece was a
big, sloppy, wet kiss. It wouldn't be surprising if, after reading
it, Welch smoked a cigarette, rolled over and fell asleep. No surprise,
then, when the time came to take his retirement victory lap, the
fawning Byrne was the ghostwriter of choice to write the mandatory
Welch's persona, as conveyed by Byrne, is engaging enough; part
hale-fellow-well-met member of the Old Boy Golf-and-Tennis network,
part curmudgeonly egotist.
"When I say `I', I mean 'we,'" he states, attempting generously
to share credit. But it's clear throughout the text that Welch,
as the personification of his company, is the star of the show.
The scores of dropped GE names produce a mildly anesthetic effect.
But at least those guys (with few female exception) got their cards
punched by Chairman Jack, even though most readers likely don't
know -- or care -- who they are.
But Welch's blustery bonhomie isn't totally charmless. The story
begins decently enough as a Horatio Alger tale of a railroad conductor's
son, an only child spoiled by a blunt-but-loving mother.
He works hard, gets a few breaks, studies diligently, gets caught
with a co-ed with their knickers down in his car by campus cops,
but is saved by a helpful department head.
As Welch begins his trajectory toward success, the tale becomes
tedious and tendentious. He joins GE as a chemical engineer with
a Ph.D. but is frustrated by the company's bureaucracy. Suddenly
a self-styled rebel whose cause is his own success, the young engineer
with apparently innate strategy, sales, marketing and management
skills quickly climbs up the corporate ladder. Surprisingly, there's
little time for reflection along the way, or even in retrospect.
It's promotions, deals, triumphs and a very few failures for the
rest of the book.
Not much personal stuff, either. He courts his wife at college,
she makes a few subsequent cameo appearances, then -- four kids
later -- they outgrow each other and divorce. Not surprisingly,
Welch scores another, much younger mate, a year or so after the
parting. He has a heart bypass operation but is back on the links
shortly thereafter. And so on.
Though Welch fancies himself a rebel, he's a very traditional laissez-faire
capitalist. The cult of personality surrounding him is not wholly
unearned, as he deserves ample credit for GE's success, despite
some observers' opinion that most of the firm's growth resulted
from shrewd divestitures and acquisitions
But any purchaser of this book or its audio
adaptations will be sorely disappointed if they crave a serious
look at GE, the economy, business in general or any meaningful lessons
from Chairman Jack.
Perhaps retirement, if he manages to pause and reflect, will provide
Welch with the opportunity to create a book that is a little meatier
and more worthwhile than this disappointingly bloated, ponderous,
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