Jack: Straight from the Gut is the memoir of Jack Welch, the CEO of the General Electric Corporation from 1981 to 2001. During his tenure as CEO, General Electric was included in the 1990’s business book Built to Last as a visionary company.
5 Lessons I Learned from Jack
Jack Welch had an amazing career in a period of intense change. When he started his career at GE, it was at the tail end of the Mad Men years, in 1960.
His first break came as a leader for a small plastics research team in GE. His team was able to drastically improve the quality of GE’s plastics manufacturing and keep them competitive in a technological revolution many people do not know happened. The advancements in plastics that have happened since 1960 are incredible, and Jack Welch was at the forefront of the research for it when he started his career.
Be Willing to Experiment
The first lesson I learned from Jack Welch’s autobiography was that we need to embrace learning while realizing that principles continue working even in major technological shifts. Jack Welch was so frustrated with the bureaucracy at GE when he started that he nearly quit.
It was only the intervention of a manager over him who ensured that he would have freedom to work and experiment that convinced him to stay at GE.
When he was the CEO, he kept an agile focus even while growing one of the largest corporations in the world.
Business Leaders Build People
The second lesson I learned from Jack:Straight from the Gut was that to be a great business leader, you have to focus your creativity in building people and culture. Although he received bad press in the 1980’s for hundreds of thousands of layoffs, the book really communicated that he did not want to do layoffs but saw it as the only way to keep GE competitive and enable better paying jobs.
Throughout the entire book, he discussed the people that he worked with, the people he promoted, the people who left GE to lead other companies. Another issue, that I disagree with him on, was his review and reward process. He fired the bottom 10% of managers in every business in GE every year!
Even though he made choices many people do not agree with, I found it very educational to read how the choices impacted the culture of GE during his 20 years as chairman. I was also interested to discover how much the culture he built impacted growth in manufacturing, expanding into services, and globalization.
The Importance of Family
I always read biographies of rich or famous people with an eye towards their families. It is incredibly difficult to be successful at work and successful in your family. Although this book was mostly about his time as CEO at GE, there was some information about how his lower income mom and dad impacted him, especially how his mother gave him a competitive spirit.
Also, he talked briefly about his divorce from his first wife and subsequent remarriage. He mentioned that when he got remarried he purposefully looked for a woman who would be able to spend time with him in traditional business settings like golf. I think this is a key part of any type of leadership and familial success. Bring your family with you.
Think Long Term
This book focused on the period of Jack’s life from 1960, when he started at GE until he retired in 2001, 41 years. During that time, he built businesses within the company, patented new technologies, succeeded one president and brought in another to replace himself.
He oversaw the growth of GE capital, the globalization of the company and using quality control to keep competitive in a more competitive world. It is so easy for people starting a business or career in the fast-paced online world and we forget that the most successful people always take time to build culture, to cultivate the process, and to become experts in what they do.
Careers are Not That Bad
If you have ever read or heard about Robert Kiyosaki’s Cash-Flow Quadrant, you have probably heard that you want to be an investor or business owner in order to be wealthy.
Jack Welch spent his entire life as an employee. He had to learn how to balance career and family life, he had to learn how to manage people and time. And, at the end of that amazing career, he retired with 100’s of millions of dollars.
You don’t have to be a business owner to retire with incredible wealth in this country, and that was one of the inspiring things I read in the book.
Jack, In Conclusion
Although you can read some of the heated debates that have and continue to surround this man, his autobiography is an interesting look at one of America’s most memorable careers. It is highly worth reading if you are interested in leadership, in building a business, or in the history of American business.