Jack Welch, at the height of his career, ran General Electric and turned GE into a powerhouse conglomerate and became one of America’s most well-known companies.
Ruling over a global empire that had its control in a different of industries from healthcare to jet engines.
Born in 1935, in Peabody, Massachusetts, he was the only child of a railroad conductor and a stay-at-home mother. He studied chemical engineering and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s and a PhD in the subject from the University of Illinois.
In 1960, he joined GE’s Pittsfield branch as a chemical engineer for its plastics division earning a monthly salary of $10,400, he told the “Freakonomics” in 2018.
Welch slowly rose through the ranks, and became the GE’s youngest chairman and CEO in 1981, and remained in that position until he retired in 2001.
The former GE CEO’s success, driven by a hard-nosed strategy to slash less profitable businesses and unproductive employees, made him an international celebrity in the 1980s and made GE to be the most valuable company in the United States during the 1990s. He also groomed a generation of business leaders who went on to run corporate giants such as Home Depot Inc and Boeing Co.
GE bought and sold many businesses under Welch’s leadership, including RCA — the then-owner of NBC. NBC Universal is the parent company of NBC News.
Welch retirement in 2001 brought more adoration and best-selling books, including a few with his wife, Suzy. They also founded the Jack Welch Management Institute, an online MBA program where he listed himself as the “Executive Chairman” on his LinkedIn page.
He also had his share of controversies, including a bond-trading scandal at the former Kidder Peabody & Co. investment-banking unit in the 1990s and significant government fines related to overstating costs in the 1980s
GE was also forced to pay more than $1.5 billion to dredge portions of the Hudson River in upstate New York where the company had dumped chemicals before they were banned. Welch’s final deal as CEO, a proposed $45 billion acquisition of rival Honeywell International Inc., was derailed by regulators.
His divorce from his second wife, after his retirement, revealed $2.5 million of annual postretirement perks such as corporate-jet use and country-club memberships, prompting an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Welch later on agreed to relinquish the benefits.
He is survived by his third wife, Suzy, and four adult children from his first marriage.
On Monday, his wife said in a statement released to CNBC: “More than anything else — leader, business icon, management genius — more than those things, although they are all true too — Jack was a life force made of love and somehow, crazily somehow, he also managed to be the greatest husband and step-father who ever lived, giving our family twenty amazing years of adventure, happiness, and joy.
Our hearts, so much larger and fuller having known and loved him, are broken.”