Last Wednesday evening, April 6, 2005, while I was at the Dressed to Kilt event, some well connected friends as well as a who’s who of New York Media & Society were at the The Four Seasons restaurant on East 52nd Street. Rupert Murdoch hosted a book release party for former legendary GE CEO and best-selling author Neutron Jack Welch for his second best-seller entitled Winning which was co-authored by his present wife Suzy Welch. Suzy is the former Harvard Business Review Editor known as Suzy Wetlaufer, who met Jack while she was covering him for a story on the Industry Titan and later became Jack’s mistress while he was married to Jane Welch. The irony of those who already won feting a man for a book entitled “Winning” was not lost on me. It is not likely that any of them need to read this book.
My hesitance to accept the canonization of Jack Welch has less to do with my allegiance to David Letterman even though I view Jack ultimately responsible for the decision to replace Johnny Carson on Late Night with the less talented tukhis kisser Jay Leno. Mr. Welch was compensated as if he created or invented General Electric rather than as if he ran the company as its Chief Executive; an important distinction. Whether you are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, before we digest and accept the legacy as being foisted on the public by the Corporate media, it is fair to ask whether this type of leader was actually good for America. As a friend of mine said to me, “Chris, you really ought to read more before you jump on the bandwagon validating the legend of Jack Welch. If you do, you will likely find that for all of the moral pontification, and the publicity to establish his legacy, a more apropos title for his book is ‘Stealing.’ This man is one of the principal robber barrons of the last half century. He is nothing more than a symbol for capitalist greed and excess.” Even I thought that was a little harsh but the point was made.
Jack Welch was certainly a charismatic leader who was at the the helm of GE during the most profitable stretch in the company’s history. We do not, however, attribute complete and total success or failure to our politicians for everything that occurs on their watch, with say regard to the economy. We always contemplate the proximate cause of their success or failure or whether or not there were intervening causes. Is it thus not fair to ask the same and whether the legacy being foisted upon the American public is an accurate one? Is it unfair to question the motives of a man who has spent the better part of his adult life in control of one of the most affluent, far reaching and powerful global corporations which also happens to do significant work for our government, the defense industry and also controls a significant media concern? Further, when such an individual has exhibited gross dishonesty in his marital and professional life, used the media as an instrument to affect political outcomes and otherwise seeks to be canonized as one of the greatest, most successful and moral CEO’s of our time, is it not fair to request an examination of the man outside the media spin cycle, at least before he is Knighted or we grant him Sainthood. A billionaire CEO winding down his affairs in life and not pursuing any further employment, who has already published several books pontificating on his managment prowess is obviously not at this point in it for the money.
The book “Winning” by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch, amounts to far less than a Tony Robbins inspirational guide. The people most interested in reading this book have already won. Winning is instead rather a self serving platform for for a meglomaniac to further embellish and restablish his legacy and celebrity. This book falls into the category of celebrity myth. It is myth building on a grand scale without a budget. It is no coincidence that Mr. Welch’s negotiations with the Publisher had less to do with his book’s advance which he graciously donated to charity but rather gaining the concession that the Publisher would spend millions promoting the book and the man. Ironically, perhaps the only jobs that we can give Mr. Welch full credit for creating are those of the Publishers of his books and the Publicists hired to mythify the man.
If history is honest, despite the multimillion dollar publicity campaign being waged to edit recent history and otherwise cement his legacy, Jack Welch may be most remembered by his critics for ushering in the era of the Charismatic but Grossly Overcompensated Billion Dollar CEO while outsourcing a significant chunk of America’s manufacturing base. Arguably, without Jack Welch, you do not have Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski, Richard Grosso, and other executives of that ilk. Some of the obscene pay packages engineered by this lot had less to do with the results that could be attributed to their management and more to do with Ronald Regan’s tax policies which resulted in the greatest bull market(s) in our history. Why we celebrate billionaires regardless of their principals, as we usher in an permanent professional underclass is beyond me. The world is not the same. If nothing else some of these people should be more critically analyzed rather than being given a free pass. Why are we being subjected to this media onslaught extolling his virtues? LEGACY. Plain and simple that is what this is about. If you buy the book perhaps you will buy the legacy but then again, maybe you won’t do either. That is my recommendation.