The Legacy of Jack Welch: still feeding at the trough

BookjwLast 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.

SEE ALSO:

-At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric and the Pursuit of Profit

-Forum: when the media are the massage

-Welch Says Perks Deserved but looked bad

-Overvalued: Why Jack Welch Isn’t God

-Boardroom Bady Boys

-Good Charisma Bad Business

-The Jack Welch War Plan

-General Electric’s Jack Welch & the corporate plundering of America

-The Media Cover-Up of The Gore Victory, Part Four, Democracy General Electric Style

Society’s Gatekeepers

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Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s, "The Gates" may have left Central Park but make no mistake, the "gates" in terms of barriers to entry still remain. I was recently reminded in a not so subtle fashion of that fact. It is less important who these "gatekeepers" are than is the perception of their own self importance that allows them to fancy themselves as such.

(photo: Two people who are on everyone’s list. Socialite Susan Shin with Richard Johnson (Editor of New York Post’s Page 6), the only daily read, last week at the 3rd Annual Dressed to Kilt: A Scottish Evening of Fashion & Fun)

Most of us have grown accustomed to the List, the Velvet Rope, the VIP Section, the Co-op Board etc. They are all symbols of/or social constructs designed to exclude based upon elements of perceived status or lack thereof. In some cases, it is based upon wealth, power, pedigree, beauty, intelligence or artistic, professional or entrepreneurial accomplishment. The process of getting on the list, being considered for the list and attaining it is a sign for many that they have arrived or are connected, wired in etc. Potential exclusion is the attraction. Getting beyond it is obviously the goal for many. Exclusivity sells insofar that nobody really wants to go to anything that anyone can get into. To quote Groucho Marx, "I do not want to belong to any club that will have me as a member."

Gatekeepers are not inclusive. Instead they see the world outlined and narrowed to seem pre-conceived list and are intent on informing you that you do not belong, that in their eyes you are not "relevant" or are to be discounted. While some who find themselves on the other end of this treatment are often left to feel belittled in some way, others such as the notorious "Shaggy" have become infamous for crashing events that he was not otherwise invited to. Ironically, Society Gossip Columnist Ben Widdicombe has a column entitled "Gatecrasher" when he is anything but, and is always on the list.

If I sound bitter, I am actually not. More often than not I have been the fortunate recipient and beneficiary of extraordinary and unexpected acts of grace, kindness and consideration. It is, however, the sociological aspects that I find most amusing and intriquing. As I have grown older, wiser (hopefully) and more experienced in life, from my successes and my failures (of which there have been many) my self esteem became much less tied to any one aspect of my life, whether it is my appearance, career, the attention of women, or men for that matter, fellow employees, an employer or even journalists (including bloggers). Instead my self-esteem is derived from a complex conglomeration of factors.

Historical notions of what constitutes "Society" may have loosened up somewhat with the commercialization and selling of status, including a reality culture that has given seemingly anyone and everyone their 15 Minutes of fame. The proliferation of luxury lifestyle publications, society columns and self-anointed photographers who’s business it is to corner the market on who and what appear in major media publications, each have their own take on what and who constitute "Society." There is always some guardian of the social order who is either assigned to determine or takes it  upon him or herself to decide the proper element and whether in fact you qualify for consideration. Some are more gracious and respectful than others in how and why they create limitations for admission to the social hierarchy.

Who decides and why? What publications constitute making Society’s "A" List? Is it  being mentioned or otherwise appearing in the pages of Avenue, Quest, Town & Country, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Absolute, Gotham or Hamptons Magazine or the pages of David Patrick Columbia’s New York Social Diary? Or does being notorious and frequently mentioned on Richard Johnson’s Page 6, Gawker or Rush & Malloy qualify? Is it just being noticed or noticed for something in particular? Is it once or do you need to appear more regularly and pull a hat trick of sorts and be mentioned in several publications? Is it the result of philanthropy or other charitable deeds, beauty, wealth, power or artistic talent? Is it who you sleep with or in the case of Candace Bushnell who you write about sleeping with? Do you need a Publicist or sponsor? If you need a Publicist, no doubt it has to be R Couri Hay. Even more fascinating, however, is why people who are excluded or marginalized in some way seek the approval of those that exclude them merely for the opportunity to be seen and photographed. Or perhaps it is so that they become Google-able– so that their name and photo come up high in google search engines as a patron of the arts and charity. Being seen is important, being photographed and mentioned well now that is the ultimate goal. But why??

These are the thoughts that were swimming in my head last Wednesday evening April 6th as I head to the Copacabana for the 3rd Annual Dressed to Kilt, a Scottish Evening of Fashion Fun while uptown several other events were going on, most notably at The Carlyle (Black Tie Dinner Benefit for the Versailles Foundation, Inc./Claude Monet-Governy in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan) and the Four Seasons.

Manhattan Has Gone to the Dogs

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Above:  Gregg R. Oehler, Publisher of The New York Dog Magazine, VIP Guest and her dog and R Couri Hay. Click here to see more photos. 

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I want a dog, a Chihuahua
When I get back to my small flat
I want to hear somebody bark
Oh, you can get lonely
I want a dog

Don’t want a cat
scratching its claws all over my habitat
giving no love and getting fat
Oh, you can get lonely
and a cat’s no help with that………

-The Pet Shop Boys

On Monday night I head downtown to the Spike Gallery in Chelsea (547 West 20th Street at the edge of west side highway) for the Scouts Black Tie *For Dogs* Spring Art Gala to benefit Animal Haven Shelter and the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals. The evening was sponsored by Scout (Dog Boutique and Pawtiserie), The New York Dog Magazine and Spike Gallery.  The door to the gallery was open to a green (grass colored) carpet for the dogs at the end of which was a camera crew and journalist from Animal Planet greeting and interviewing the dog owners. The gallery was tastefully adorned with paintings of dogs. 

It was a spectacle not to be believed. One by one New York Socialite women and their dogs entered the gallery with their pets nearly as well styled, and in some cases even more so than their owners. I noticed a table with delectable looking pastries and cupcakes. I was about to dig in when I was advised that they were “doggie treats” and not for people. The cupcakes were miniature replicas of my favorites from Billy’s Bakery. I was envious of those little pooches. It was clear that this was their Gala and I was merely a spectator.

In plain view at the bar, however, was the friendly orange label with those magical French words, Veuve Clicquot,which if you do not know, means excellent champagne. I am always in the mood for The Bubbly. Better yet the "VC" was being served by a buff blonde girl with arms and a stomach that would shame Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Her face was not exactly difficult to look at either. I said something about wanting to get some photos of her pouring the sponsored champagne from Veuve Clicquot. She had no issues with that and thus gave me license to gawk at her with my Canon G6 Camera and drink another glass of champagne. Anywhere else she might have been considered one of the most beautiful creatures in the room. But here nearly everyone was preoccupied with the dogs. Lest they not know that I was also a dog, albeit one on two legs prowling the room for something a tad different.

I was bewildered by the abundance of major media covering this event. Every where I turned there was a Canon or Nikon SLR in my face. I intended to make it an early evening having actually brought my gym bag to go to CLAYon 14th Street. But, then it happened. The women, extremely attractive, well mannered and stylish started to pack the gallery, first Christine Cachot Williams, then Mona Wyatt. The parade did not end, so I finished my glass of champagne and did what I normally do, which is take pictures of beautiful people, in this case, with their dogs.  Also in attendance were my friends (Roger Webster, Linda Mansfield, Shawna Enright & R Couri Hay ) from the Office of R Couri Hay, Creative Public Relations, the remier society publicity firm. Linda Mansfield personally introduced me to Gregg R. Oehler, Publisher of The New York Dog Magazine which is in essence the Gotham Magazine of the Doggie Industry. Before leaving I made the acquaintance of many in the Pet Industry. Most notably Kathy Santo, dog behaviorist and author of “Dog Sense”; Heather & Peter Caraballo of The Pink Hotdog.com;and Julia Szabo, Pet Columnist and Author and dog trainer Rikke Brogaard, who recommended that I check out a worthwhile organization that she is affiliated with, the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League. Also networking and mixing in the crowd were the ladies from Leashes and Lovers a singles networking group for dog lovers, who were passing out flyers to their events.

On some level, I was blindsided by the emergence of this urban dog culture. While this constituency, and it is one when politicians and luxury marketers begin taking notice, developed I was clueless and late to comprehend the growing obsession with Dogs in Manhattan in particular. At the end of last year, I attended a benefit for the ASPCA at JCREW and have even had the chance to visit the Woof Spa in Chelsea on several occassions to pick up a pooch for a friend.

I am reminded of the Pet Shop Boys anthem “I want a Dog”, a simple song that symbolizes life in urban society; single, married without children or divorced and returning to an empty home. This is not something that many of us generally look forward to. There are times when I return home wondering what it would be like to be greeted by "Dukie" (my childhood family dog, so much a member of the family that he dined simulataneously with us and we often fed him healthy people food. This was in the 1970’s before the proliferation of services and businesses catering to the pampered pet). We just loved him. He slept in my bed and when he passed away while I was in my first year at college I was depressed for a week. To this day, I still miss him. Not a week goes by, especially now that I do not think of him.

So, when Sara Schaffer of www.dogsarepeopletoo.com asked me to snap a photo of her with “her babies”, how could I say no? They are her family and whom she chooses to pamper. Maybe I should have advised the bartender that men are dogs too, although not necessarily as well pampered. I could learn a thing or two from one of those dogs. Life might be better with four legs and a tail, at least in some households in Manhattan. Just an observation but perhaps it is not too far fetched to suggest that the growing Dog Industry has sprouted to cater to an affluent clientele of lonely New Yorkers (urban dwellers) who have reached the nesting age and replaced animals with the children that they no longer seem to be having for one reason or another. The reasons? Well that is a subject for another day.