Jack Welch, who transformed GE into America’s most valuable company over 30 years at the helm of the industrial conglomerate, has died at the age of 84.
As chairman and chief executive officer from 1981 to 2001, Welch came to define a style of management that was featured on countless laudatory magazine covers and made him a best-selling author of leadership books, even if his legacy was later clouded by GE’s subsequent reversals.
“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,” said Larry Culp, GE’s current chief executive.
“When I last saw him, what I remember most vividly was when he asked me, ‘So how exactly are you running the company?’” Mr Culp added. “Jack was still in it — committed to GE’s success . . . We’ll continue to honour his legacy by doing exactly what Jack would want us to do: win.”
Welch earned a reputation for producing uncannily predictable growth in earnings and dividends for GE’s shareholders as he reshaped a company founded by Thomas Edison through cost-cutting, dealmaking and the rigorous training of a generation of managers who went on to leadership positions across corporate America.
As the head of the best known US industrial company in an era of rising global competition, Welch took a ruthless approach to cutting overhead, earning him the nickname “Neutron Jack” as he fired the lowest-performing 10 per cent of its staff each year. He diversified into areas from digital technology to finance, building the giant GE Capital arm which was to weigh on his successors.
Plaudits came in from across the business and political world. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that Welch was a “friend and supporter”, and praised his legacy as a corporate leader.
“There was no corporate leader like ‘neutron’ Jack,” Mr Trump wrote. “He will never be forgotten. My warmest sympathies to his wonderful wife & family!