Jack – Straight From The Gut :: Book Review

This book had been with me for quite some time now – well, for maybe over fifteen years now. I had probably picked it up when it was fresh on the shelves. However, quite like a few of the books that I pick, I did take a lot of time to read it, finishing it only recently. Reading it, at this stage of my life, probably gave me a better perspective, probably more than what I could have gained if I had read it when I had picked it up first.

The book, as Warren Buffet, Chairman, Berkshire Hathway, mentions comes straight from “the Tiger Woods of Management” and that we should “listen carefully to what he says”. Michael D. Eisner, who was the Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company, from 1984 till 2005, goes on to say that “Jack Welch gave team leadership new meaning as he took an industrial giant and turned it into an industrial colossus with a heart and a soul and a brain.”

Indeed over the course of his 20-year-run at the helm of the company, shares of GE jumped 2,790%, outperforming the S&P 500’s 710% upswing. And between the time when Welch took on the mantle of CEO and when he retired, GE’s market capitalization soared by $387 billion to $394 billion. On the Fortune 500, GE’s rank jumped from 10th in 1981 to fifth in 2001 after revenue rose 361% to $125.7 billion. (Source : Fortune). Post Jack Welch’s tenure, Jeffrey Immelt took over in 2001, who too recently stepped down paving the way for John L. Flannery, a thirty years veteran from within GE. In hindsight a lot can be debated about Jack Welch’s tenure and the reasons for the success that he was able to achieve, which Jeffery Immelt wasn’t able to.

What does go to Jack’s credit is how he was able to shake up the bureaucratic way of working at GE and fast track things there, though Jack’s says that ‘contrary to reputation, he was often too cautious – he waited too long to get rid of managers who were not able to face reality; he was hesitant with some acquisitions, slow to embrace the internet and even timid about blowing up all the rituals and traditions of what once had been a bureaucracy.’

The book traces his early years and how his working class family, most notably his Irish mother, helped shape his life. He details the early years at GE when he learned how to “get out of the pile” and realized that corporate bureaucracy was his enemy. Particularly intense is his dark horse struggle, filled with political tension, to make it to the CEO’s chair. The “Neutron Jack” years when GE decided to layoff 100,000 as part of a strategy to “fix, sell or close” each business, was a decisive period in the process to create a formidable GE.

Some learning for leaders have been encapsulated in a separate chapter titled, “What this CEO thing is all about”, some of which are given below and will prove extremely useful to any leader, irrespective of the level that he or she may be at –

  • Integrity  –

I never had two agendas. There was only one way – the Right Way !

Literally translated Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. More often than not, in organisations today, given the pressure to succeed, employees may take a path which may not be absolutely right. There could be an element of grey or the basis of success could be a half-truth, which in the eyes of the employee or maybe even the organisation, may not be the ideal path. One needs to be careful of such decisions and ensure that one sticks to Right Way only.

  • Setting a Tone

The organisation takes it cue from the person at the top.

People make up organisations. As employees, we seek directions, clarity and a sense of purpose. Like in our individual lives, we may have a sense of where the organisation should go, more often than not we look for cues from the person at the top. As leaders, irrespective of where we may be at the corporate heirarchy, it is critical that we provide the cues to our team. Our thoughts and objectives can serve as a rallying point for the team to rise up to the challenge as also take the leap of faith to help the organisation gallop ahead.

  • People First, Strategy Second

Getting the right people in the right jobs is a lot more important than developing a strategy.

People, that’s what organisations are composed of. Remove the human talent and nothing remains. Hence, it is extremely critical that people become the focus of everything within an organisation. If you have the right set of people – with the right skills and attitude, aligned to a common purpose – it will make a world of difference. It is these very people who will drive strategy, which can then lead an organisation to greater heights.

  • Maximising an Organisation’s Intellect

Taking everyone’s best ideas and transferring them to others is the secret.

As individuals, within an organisation, we have our own thoughts and ideas as to what will work best for everyone, including ourselves. Unfortunately, this also hampers progress. At times it becomes a situation where individuals are simply propagating their ideas with intention of one upmanship, and the collective good is forgotten. It is in such times, that a true leader needs to guide the group, differentiating the idea from the individual and work towards promoting the idea, if the same is beneficial for the organisation. As a leader, it then becomes critical to ensure that there is a buy-in for the ideas which exemplary.

  • Informality

Bureaucracy strangles. Informality liberates.

Haven’t we seen this play out in organisation after organisation. Departments, silos, bureaucracy – give it any name and you will understand. Processes are important for any organisation and crucial for it’s proper functioning. However, when people become fixated on the processes rather than remembering that they are there to serve a purpose, problems arise. Within the framework of the organisation and it’s processes, individuals can galvanize their teams and others so that the organisation wins. Ensuring that there is camaraderie at work and infusing it with a sense of informality will go a long way in converting a thought process, which focuses on ‘me‘ and ‘us‘, to ‘we‘.

  • Self-Confidence

Arrogance is a killer, and wearing ambition on one’s sleeve can have the same effect. There is a fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. Legitimate self-confidence is a winner.

Humility succeeds like nothing else. While we should be proud of our achievements and also articulate the same, arrogance defeats the purpose of winning. It rubs people the wrong way and invariably alienates them from the individual who brags about his success. Ambition, on the other hand, is extremely critical. It helps one to set goals and then stretch oneself to achieve the same. Ambition, played the right way, results in a lot of learning and growth for the individual. It helps build ones’ self confidence and helps the individual power ahead.

These and many more, like the ones below, make for some fascinating reading and learning –

  • Passion

If there is one characteristic all winners share, it is that they care more than anyone else.

  • Stretch

Stretch is reaching for more than what you thought possible.

  • Celebrations

Business has to be fun. For too many people, it’s just a job.

  • Aligning Rewards with Measurements

By not aligning measurements and rewards, you often get what you are not looking for.

  • Differentiation Develops Great Organisations

It is the key to building a great organisation

  • Owning the People

We ran the people factory to build great leaders

  • Appraisals all the time

I was giving appraisals all the time. Notes did a couple of things. I had the chance to reflect on each business and what I thought was important.

  • Culture Counts

An organisation that truly believes in maximising intellect can’t have multiple cultures.

  • Strategy

It has to be dynamic and anticipatory.

  • Competitors

Never underestimate the other guy.

  • The Field

HQ doesn’t sell anything. Banging around the field was my best shot at getting some idea about what was really going on.

  • Markets vs Mind Sets

When we asked each business to redefine its market so they could have no more than 10 per cent share, what had looked like mature markets became growth opportunities.

  • Initiatives vs Tactics

Initiatives live forever. They create fundamental change in a company. Tactics revitalise and energise a function or company.

  • The Communicator

I always felt I had to be “over the top” to get hundreds of thousands of people behind an idea.

  • Employee Surveys

Knowing – and confronting – what was on the minds of our employees was a key part of our success.

  • Upgrading a function

Once w had energised leaders in place, ideas flowed like water downhill to the rest of the company.

  • The Advertising Manager

Image mattered. I was convinced it was my job.

  • Managing loose, managing tight

Knowing when to meddle and when to let go was a pure gut decision.

  • Wallowing

I meant getting people together. often spontaneously, to wrestle through a complex issue.

  • Your back room is somebody else’s front room

Back rooms by definition will never be able to attract your best. We converted ours into someone else’s front room and insisted on getting their best.

  • Speed

I rarely regretted acting but often regretted not acting fast enough.

  • Forget the Zeros

Size either liberates or paralyses. We tried every day to remember that the benefit of size was that it allowed us to take more swings.

  • The Corporation and the Community

I believe social responsibility begins with a strong, competitive company. Only a healthy enterprise can improve and enrich the lives of the people and their communities.

Pick this book up, not simply to understand the life of one of the great executives in the business world, but also to learn some eternal and everlasting management lessons.

What are your thoughts on how Leaders should be built take their teams along the journey towards growth and success.

It will be great to hear from you. I can be reached at sanjeevsrivastav@yahoo.com. You can connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter too.


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