Jack Welch: Least Helpful Predecessor

Jack Welch, legendary former CEO of GE. Jeff Immelt, current CEO of GE. Welch groomed Immelt.

So this is not what Immelt probably expected from his former mentor as GE suffers a bit on Wall Street:

On April 16th, in an apparent bid to wrest the title of "least helpful predecessor" from Alan Greenspan, the suddenly outspoken former Federal Reserve chairman, Mr Welch informed viewers of…CNBC, that "Jeff has a credibility issue. He’s getting his ass kicked," before promising to "get a gun out and shoot him if he doesn’t make what he promised now."

It’d be one thing if Immelt was thought to have a motivation issue or didn’t know that he was in some deep shit. That’s not the case here. This is just dumb on the part of Welch.

On the topic of Welch, I’ve long been befuddled by how much businesspeople idolize the guy. I mean, OK, so he had an incredible run at GE. He’s been one of America’s most successful CEOs. That doesn’t mean every business owner can learn from him.

Circumstances matter. Are the tips from a CEO of a $300+ billion dollar company going to be useful to someone running a 10 person company, or even a 1,000 person company? I doubt it.

There are many successful CEOs and it’d be smarter, it seems to me, to find someone who is doing a little bit better than you (ie, 3-5 years ahead in terms of progress), and study that person.

Instead, we flock to read Welch and Trump and Gerstner, thinking that their experiences can help us understand our own. Worse yet, people fork over thousands of dollars just to hear Donald Trump speak in-person at a Learning Annex conference or whatever. I couldn’t think of a worse way to invest professional development money.

4 Responses to Jack Welch: Least Helpful Predecessor

  1. Hello Ben, great post (and a very courageous one)!

    Your tip on “find someone who is doing a little bit better than you (ie, 3-5 years ahead in terms of progress), and study that person” is very valuable.

    I think you can learn a lot from super-famous persons (link Welch and Trump), specially on mind-set and attitude, but I agree you can learn more from stuff like the INC Magazine section “How I did it”.

    Thanks a lot, Miguel, from Brazil

    PS: It´s not easy to criticize Welch, and you´ve done it right.

  2. Jack Abraham says:

    It’s true that, especially for entrepreneurs running small companies, Trump and Welch aren’t good guys to look up to. Trump started with $50M and Welch climbed the ladder. That being said, I think studying Welch in particular is great for the majority of people in business who work at big companies. And it wasn’t just an incredible run at GE. It was the most incredible run in history. Every quarter profits went up. GE’s market cap went from approx $15B when he started to $400B+ when he left. I’m just saying… you’ve gotta give credit where it’s due right?

  3. Krishna says:

    Jack,

    No single person can ever claim individual credit for enterprise growth of that size. Part of that growth in market cap is also because of the team at GE, of which Jeff Immelt has been a core member. Funny that Immelt, then considered worthy of being Welch’s successor at GE, has suddenly become the fall guy.

    Try giving Welch a re-run now when GE countrywide and its Finance arms are reeling under credit crisis? This could be his real test. Part of the loans that turned bad were lent when Welch had been at the helm. The processes that are being debunked now have all been framed during his time anyway!

    I do admire Welch. But he is only human.

  4. Hi Ben,

    Great post my friend.

    My thinking is that you can learn something from everyone. I remember reading one of Welch’s books and I thought he was an excellent communicator. He views on finances and budgets – pants!

    “There are many successful CEOs and it’d be smarter, it seems to me, to find someone who is doing a little bit better than you (ie, 3-5 years ahead in terms of progress), and study that person.”

    Can I slightly adjust this to “find several individuals who….” – i.e. do not limit yourself to one.

    Andrew

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