Welch electrifies Kellogg audience with leadership insights
Oct. 16 in Owen L. Coon Forum before an overflow crowd of Kellogg
School students, faculty and staff, Jack Welch offered his perspectives
on leadership and strategy gleaned from his 20-year tenure as
chief executive of General Electric Co. Welch stepped down from
his role at the company this year.
CEO adopted a conversational tone, but spoke with the energy
and intensity that have become his trademarks. In his remarks,
he stressed the importance of passion and people management.
Welch spoke for more than an hour as Kellogg Dean Dipak Jain
and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs David Besanko moderated
a Q&A format discussion based on questions submitted by
students prior to the event.
As he began,
Welch invited inquiries on a broad array of topics"from
my salary to the union, whatever you want to go at," he
said. Students focused on subjects ranging from corporate leadership
and succession, to globalization and hiring policies. Welch
even offered some advice for business schools who want to train
the best leaders: "These schools should emphasize a hell
of a lot more classes based around people management,"
he said, sending a murmur through the audience.
|© Nathan Mandell
regarded as a preeminent corporate leader, Welch has been
credited with reinventing GE several times during his tenure
there, frequently extending the company's product line into
novel areas while growing business internationally. Globalization
was among the topics Welch expressed keen interest in discussing.
has become the newest four-letter word," he said, alluding
to the wildly varying definitions the term assumes based on
context and speaker. "To me, globalization means a constant
striving for more intellect and cooperation [within a company],
bringing together the best and brightest from around the world.
Globalization is not perfect, it's not the cure for everything,
but it's a step in the right direction and has done more to
help the 'have-nots' get closer to the 'haves' than anything
about GE's globalization strategy, Welch highlighted what
he considered the company's key to success. He noted that
GE took tangible, visible steps to demonstrate its commitment
to globalizing the company. As a result, people in the business
community paid attention.
took our very best people and put them in key roles so everyone
knew we really meant [what we said]," explained Welch.
"We moved a key guy from New York to Hong Kong. Right
there, that sent a signal that meant more than 20 speeches
was another subject of interest to Kellogg students. Welch
offered his assessment of the way a person becomes a leader,
and what any good leader should accomplish.
comes from having lots of experiences and building your self-esteem
and self-confidence step by step," said Welch. "Your
job as a leader is to create an environment where others can
earn self-confidence. Leaders allow people to experiment and
to fail and to try things. It's all about going to bat and getting
your swings, not about playing it safe."
© Nathan Mandell
(l to r) Associate Dean David Besanko, Jack Welch and
Dean Dipak Jain.
the discussion, the audience responded warmly to the speaker's
remarks, laughing as Welch made an occasional joke or wry
observation. Welch demonstrated the ability to modulate his
tone from serious to nonchalant without ever seeming to lose
sight of his overall purposecommunicating the tenets
of good corporate management to a rapt audience.
after time, the biggest mistakes I've seen CEOs make is not
putting their best talent behind the initiatives they take,"
stated Welch. "Put the best people in these key roles
and others [in your company] will follow."
of the evening came when Welch pinpointed what he believes
represent the traits any senior executive must embody to compete
today. Passion, he said, was most important, but in addition
a business leader needs energy and the ability to energize
others. The leader, he said, must also have an "edge"defined
as the ability to make a firm decisionand then execute
that decision effectively.
whose new book titled Jack: Straight From the Gut was
on sale at the event, came back to emphasizing passion and
commitment to doing whatever it takes to accomplish one's
can't stand dabbling," he said. "You want to be
an artist? Fine, then paint. But get in the game."