This was one of the hardest book for me to finish. If I did not have this weakness for finishing what I started – I would have stopped after reading 200 or so pages.
The book is divided into five sections: early years, building a philosophy, ups and downs, game changers and looking back-looking forward.
Mr. Jack Welch does not waste any time coming to the point. By page 19 he has already joined GE, after finishing his PhD. Then the pages turn into chapters and chapters turn into a section. He introduces people after people, employees, bosses, competitors, clients – none of them stick in your mind. He leapfrogs from one person to another, not spending time on any of them. He is already the CEO of GE by Section 2, but the introductions continue. Now he is describing awesome people he found to spearhead his projects. He himself observes at the beginning of the book.
Nearly everything I have done in my life has been accomplished with other people.
For nearly the entire book the presentation and his story suffers because of the endless changing characters. Some people pop up quite surprisingly at the end. Like Jeff Immelt. The new CEO makes an appearance only at the end and you find out that he and Jack go way back. Being an important character in the story I would have expected to hear about him sooner.
You also get the feeling that he is this “over the top guy”. Does not really care much about things other than his job. You find that his first wife was a big supporter and raised his children well … until all of a sudden they divorce, he starts seeing a different girl Jane and ends up marrying her — all of this in under one page.
There are some places where he argues in support of some of the methods he used. The arguments are incredibly weak. For example – rating people and firing the bottom 10%. If this worked Enron would have been the best company on the planet. Malcolm Gladwell describes this quite well in his essay on talent.
The very best companies, they concluded, had leaders who were obsessed with the talent issue. They recruited ceaselessly, finding and hiring as many top performers as possible. They singled out and segregated their stars, rewarding them disproportionately, and pushing them into ever more senior positions.
This is what the CEO of Enron had to say about Enron’s system.
… at Enron, the top performers were rewarded inordinately, and promoted without regard for seniority or experience. Enron was a star system. “The only thing that differentiates Enron from our competitors is our people, our talent,” Lay, Enron’s former chairman and C.E.O., told the McKinsey consultants … (Malcolm Gladwell)
Did the star system work for GE ? Probably yes. Does that prove that it will work everywhere ? Probably no. Jack Welch fails to understand it when he generalizes his experience to everything and tells a clothing store manager to fire his bottom 10% people.
There is another very weak argument about corporations being people and healthy corporations willing to help the society.
He uses terms introducing them much later. For example – six sigma was described much later but was used during the entire book.
The book could have been shortened to half of what it is — improving the readability and reducing the fat which it carries at the moment. The message would also have been clearer. The last 2 sections have flashes of brilliance, in terms of topics he chose to write on. An example was the Honeywell acquisition – which failed.
I would recommend this book – if only to understand what a CEO of a major company thinks about how he should present himself to the readers of his autobiography.