Jack Welch, the business luminary who built General Electric into an industrial and financial powerhouse and became known for his aggressive management style, has died, GE confirmed. He was 84.
Welch, who served as chairman and CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001, presided over a massive increase in the company’s stock valuation. In recent years, the company has struggled as it became too unwieldy and Welch’s successors began dismantling the empire that he built.
“Today is a sad day for the entire GE family,” GE Chairman and CEO Larry Culp said in a statement. “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.”
Welch, who was born in 1935, joined GE as a chemical engineer in 1960 after earning degrees from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Illinois.
He quickly rose in the ranks, becoming the company’s youngest vice president in 1972 and earning the title of vice chairman in 1979. He soon succeeded Reginald Jones, becoming the company’s eighth chairman and CEO.
The year before he became CEO, the company posted about $27 billion in revenue. In his last full year as CEO, the company had nearly $130 billion in revenue. Its total market capitalization climbed from $14 billion to $410 billion.
Named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune in 1999, Welch became known for his willingness to make big bets, slash jobs and sell businesses.
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During his reign, GE acquired companies like RCA, which then owned NBC, and investment bank Kidder Peabody. Upon Welch’s departure from GE, he received a lavish retirement package that critics assailed as excessive. It included access to company aircraft, cars, apartments and financial planning services, according to CNN.
Welch cut tens of thousands of jobs, earning the nickname “Neutron Jack” for his willingness to blow up the business.
He went by the moniker of “fix it, close it or sell it,” which he said he got from management consultant Peter Drucker.
“If you weren’t already in this business, would you enter it now, and if the answer’s no, what are you going to do about it?” Welch said at the annual Presidents Summit in a video posted to YouTube in 2016. “From that, came fix, close or sell.”
Despite his reputation for being willing to let people go, Welch, the author of best-selling books like “Winning” and “Jack: Straight from the Gut,” described his management philosophy as betting on the right people.
“I think strategy, execution and people all go together, and if you don’t get the people right, the strategy doesn’t matter. And if you don’t get the people right, you won’t get the execution. So you’re dead,” he said.
He added: “One of the jobs you have as a manager is to pump everyday self-confidence into your team to make them feel great, to make people like me feel like I’ve got a full head of hair and I’m six-foot-10.” Welch was short and bald.
“That’s what you want to do,” he said. “You want to get into people’s skin and excite them about where you’re going.”
On Monday, GE CEO Culp recalled his last encounter with Welch.
“When I last saw him, what I remember most vividly was when he asked me, ‘So how exactly are you running the company?’ Jack was still in it – committed to GE’s success. And to have Jack Welch ask me how I am running GE is pretty humbling,” Culp said. “He will be deeply missed by me and the entire GE team. And we’ll continue to honor his legacy by doing exactly what Jack would want us to do: win.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.