I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of one of the business greats. Jack Welch was the former chairman and CEO of General Electric. Under his leadership, GE became the world’s biggest company by market cap in 1999. Many management students — myself included — learned the importance of managing a business using data from how Jack ran GE.
The death of Jack Welch prompts a question: What kind of legacy did he leave behind?
Much has been written about Jack Welch and his success leading GE. Many of Jack’s senior lieutenants went on to run some of America’s biggest firms. And yet, not long after he retired in 2001, questions arose about his accounting methods. And then, during the ’08/’09 financial crisis, the once mighty GE Capital threatened to bring down the entire company.
Jack Welch was also focused on winnowing out poor-performing businesses and employees. Some notable Jack quotes include: “You got to be rigorous in your appraisal system. The biggest cowards are managers who don’t let people know where they stand.” and “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too.”
As we’ve entered a faster-paced, more digital era, there have been challenges at GE. But my own research on digital transformation suggests that many of the lessons Jack preached remain valid, such as hiring great talent and empowering them to lead. Indeed, many of the most successful companies today are running extremely flat management structures and empowering employees to innovate and learn quickly.
It seems to me that applying many of Jack’s lessons, especially with regards to being customer-obsessed, will stand firms in good stead for future growth in the digital age. Here are some of my favorite quotes of his that still resonate today:
The original article by Nigel Fenwick, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, is here. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Photo credit: iStockphoto/marchmeena29