Welch College of Business Students Welcome John F. Welch to Campus

News Story: October 1, 2010
Jack Welch chats with sophomore Aitza Negron, left, during his
recent visit to campus.

Jack Welch, the man Fortune magazine called the “Manager of the Century,” returned to campus on Wednesday, October 20th, to meet with undergraduates in the Jack Welch College of Business and share with them his views on the economic climate and the business world they are preparing to lead. The legendary former CEO of General Electric responded to questions from Dr. John Petillo, dean of the Welch College, and a number of students at a special forum in the Schine Auditorium.

Mr. Welch opened with a sobering assessment of the present job market and gave the students direct and simple advice: “It’s a tough, tough environment out there between the recession and the impact of technology, so you have to prepare fully before you go out on a job interview. Make the case that you are the perfect person for the job and that you are ready to give heart and soul to the position. Don’t dress casual and be cool about it: you’ve got to be an animal! Do your homework on the company and learn everything you possibly can. Believe me, this is more important homework than anything you’ve done in four years of college!”

After 20 years as the head of GE, he has definite opinions of what succeeds in the marketplace. He advised students to team up with a company they love. “A job is only a job if you end up in some place you don’t like,” he asserted, reminding his audience that those are the employees who should get “kicked in the butt” because they add nothing to a company.
“People say it’s cruel to let such people go. No, it’s cruel to let them stay. The first day you start to lead people, you have to let them know where they stand. You’re graded all your life; why should that stop when you enter business? You’re a weakling if you won’t get rid of slackers. And everyone knows who they are. Business is about building winning teams,” he emphasized.

While employees have to prove their worth within an organization, the companies have obligations as well. “At GE,” he recalled, “we worked hard to get the right people and treated them right when we had them. And nothing beats a good paycheck. It’s important to celebrate people and let them know how valuable they are. And there wasn’t a time when I visited a GE plant that I didn’t sit down with the union. I wasn’t negotiating. I was simply building a relationship.”

Now an internationally sought-after consultant on business affairs and leadership, he exchanged views on a wide variety of subjects. “I don’t buy the idea that consumers are fed up with business; that’s crazy. Businesses are people, they’re not buildings. Your mothers and fathers are businesses, and some day, you will be businesses,” he told the students.

Asked about valuations in the Chinese yuan (its currency), he basically said that Americans should get over it. If the Chinese re-valued their currency today, he insisted, “we wouldn’t suddenly start making T-shirts here; we wouldn’t build factories to make shoes. Those jobs are gone forever. It’s a facetious argument and perfect for a political year, but it’s phony. We buy from places that produce a good product at a fair price.

“That’s why Walmart has been so successful. People plead for the Ma and Pa stores that will be hurt when a Walmart comes in. But Walmart provides a good product at a fair price, it gives employees opportunities that let everyone rise, and as a buyer, it keeps suppliers on their toes. China is like Walmart; without it, our interest rates wouldn’t be so low, that’s for sure.”

As for the upcoming political elections, Mr. Welch said he hoped for major changes, noting that our system works best with checks and balances and that good presidents are made better when they are forced to work with others.  He ended with the hope that the next Congress will work to grow the economy. “The government shouldn’t spend the money but let the people spend it. You can’t regain prosperity by cutting back but by encouraging growth everywhere. This is an exceptional country,” he concluded. “You don’t find people fighting to get out, but they are fighting to get in. This is a country where guys like me, whose parents couldn’t rub two nickels together, can achieve all that I have.”

A major benefactor to the John F, Welch College of Business, he has a long connection with the University, having led GE, whose world headquarters is a mile from campus, from 1981-2001. When the College of Business was formally named for him in 2006, he promised to remain an active presence on campus and share his expertise with the administration and students of the College.