Welch bowed out at the top of his game. Jeff Immelt, his successor, ran straight into the fallout from the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001.
About this time, Welch embarked on an affair with Suzy Wetlaufer, a senior editor at the Harvard Business Review. She became the third Mrs Jack Welch. The intervening divorce was a messy and highly public affair. Welch’s ex-wife, Jane, is a lawyer, and didn’t miss a trick in making the tycoon pay for his infidelity.
Court proceedings flushed out embarrassing details about the thousands of dollars spent by GE on keeping the retired CEO in the manner to which he was accustomed. The largesse ran to flowers for his apartment and tickets to baseball games. The divorce settlement was kept secret, but could have cost Welch up to half his £300m fortune.
Is he bothered? Not a bit of it. Welch, at 69, has come bouncing back with a new book, Winning, in which he dispenses fun tips for business success – such as continually purging the worst 10% of your workforce. His penchant for sacking people earned him the nickname ‘Neutron Jack’ – he removed employees but left the buildings standing.
Welch’s tenure at GE looks less rose-tinted with time, but the enthusiasm of his fans remains. Public speaking engagements are regularly sold out and his biography, Jack: Straight from the Gut, was on the bestseller list for months.
There is something about Welch’s folksy, plain-speaking manner that appeals to people – apart from his ex-wives.
Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times
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