Thread regarding General Electric Co. layoffs

NYT: How Jack Welch’s Reign at G.E. Gave Us Elon Musk’s Twitter Feed-2

Part 2 of 2
The implication was unmistakable: When Mr. Welch was at the height of his powers, the same sort of deceptive tactics were being employed.

‘They had the G.E. tool kit’
The roaring success Mr. Welch found at G.E. inspired countless imitators, as an entire generation of managers sought to emulate his techniques, his growth strategies and his values. And in G.E., Mr. Welch had the perfect apparatus to disseminate his ideology.

For the better part of a century, G.E. was the most influential company in the country when it came to organizational design and executive development.

Charles Coffin, who took over G.E. in 1892, was known as the “father of professional management.” An influential Harvard Business School case study chronicled how G.E. became “a bellwether” for American business operations. In refining its own internal processes and training methods over the decades, the study argued, “G.E. found itself at the leading edge of management practice.”

G.E. was the corporation other C.E.O.s looked to for guidance on how they ought to run their own companies, and the place where headhunters went to find talent. “When a company needs a loan, it goes to a bank,” Fortune magazine once wrote. “When a company needs a C.E.O., it goes to General Electric, which mints business leaders the way West Point mints generals.”

G.E. even had its own elite training ground for up-and-coming stars, a retreat where white collar gladiators could hone their skills. Known as Crotonville, the campus was spread across 52 acres in the bucolic village of Croton-on-Hudson, just north of New York City and not far from West Point.

The center was the first of its kind, and it would inspire other corporations, including IBM, Hitachi, and Boeing, to create similar centers. It served as an in-house business school for the dozens of G.E. executives who studied Mr. Welch’s playbook and went on to manage other companies, including 3M, Equifax, Medtronic, Nielsen, Rubbermaid and more.

For a time in the early 2000s, five of the top 30 companies in the Dow Jones industrial average were run by men who had worked for Mr. Welch. “That’s why they got hired,” said William Conaty, G.E.’s longtime chief of human resources. “Because they had the playbook. They had the G.E. tool kit. And boards back then thought that was the answer.”

‘A maniacal attachment to results’
The Welch protégés who struck out on their own rarely fared well. At Home Depot, Albertson’s, Conseco, Stanley Works and many other companies, the same story seemed to repeat itself ad infinitum.

A G.E. executive was named C.E.O. of another company. News of the appointment sent the stock of that company soaring. The incoming leaders were lavished with riches when they took their new jobs, signing multimillion-dollar contracts that ensured them a gilded retirement, no matter how well they performed. A period of job cuts usually ensued, and profits sometimes rose for a few quarters, or even a few years. But inevitably, morale cratered, the business wobbled, the stock price sank and the Welch disciple was sent packing.

“A lot of G.E. leaders were thought to be business geniuses,” said Bill George, the former C.E.O. of Medtronic. “But they were just cost cutters. And you can’t cost cut your way to prosperity.”

More than any company besides G.E., it was Boeing that was most directly shaped by Mr. Welch.

Over the past 25 years, a succession of men who worked for Mr. Welch refashioned the airplane maker’s culture to resemble G.E.’s, transforming a company that once made a priority of aeronautical engineering into one that thrived on financial engineering.

The first was Harry Stonecipher, who joined Boeing in a 1997 merger. He moved the company headquarters to Chicago from Seattle to chase tax breaks, took a tough line with the labor unions and pushed the company to cut costs.

“When people say I changed the culture of Boeing, that was the intent, so it’s run like a business rather than a great engineering firm,” Mr. Stonecipher said in 2004. “It is a great engineering firm, but people invest in a company because they want to make money.”

Next came Jim McNerney, a Welch lieutenant who was named C.E.O. of Boeing after Mr. Stonecipher was fired for having an affair with a subordinate.

Mr. McNerney moved operations to states with weak labor laws, embraced outsourcing, and in 2011 made the fateful decision to redesign the 737 — a plane introduced in the 1960s — once more, rather than lose out on a crucial order with American Airlines. That decision set in motion the flawed development of the 737 Max, which crashed twice in five months, ki----g 346 people. And while a number of factors contributed to those tragedies, they were ultimately the product of a corporate culture that cut corners in pursuit of short-term financial gains.

Even today Boeing is run by a Welch disciple. Dave Calhoun, the current C.E.O., was a dark horse candidate to succeed Mr. Welch in 2001, and he was on the Boeing board during the rollout of the Max and the botched response to the crashes.

When Mr. Calhoun took over the company in 2020, he set up his office not in Seattle (Boeing’s spiritual home) or Chicago (its official headquarters), but outside St. Louis at the Boeing Leadership Center, an internal training center explicitly built in the image of Crotonville. He said he hoped to channel Mr. Welch, whom he called his “forever mentor.”

‘Mass neurosis’
The “Manager of the Century” was unbowed in retirement, barreling through the twilight of his life with the same bombast that defined his tenure as C.E.O.

He refashioned himself as a management guru and created a $50,000 online M.B.A. in an effort to instill his tough-nosed tactics in a new generation of business leaders. (The school boasts that “more than two out of three students receive a raise or promotion while enrolled.”) He cheered on the political rise of Mr. Trump, then advised him when he won the White House.

In his waning days, Mr. Welch emerged as a trafficker of conspiracy theories. He called climate change “mass neurosis” and “the attack on capitalism that socialism couldn’t bring.” He called for President Trump to appoint Rudy Giuliani attorney general and investigate his political enemies.

The most telling example of Mr. Welch’s foray into political commentary, and the beliefs it revealed, came in 2012. That’s when he took to Twitter and accused the Obama administration of fabricating the monthly jobs report numbers for political gain. The accusation was rich with irony. After decades during which G.E. massaged its own earnings reports, Mr. Welch was effectively accusing the White House of doing the same thing.

While Mr. Welch’s claim was baseless, conservative pundits picked up on the conspiracy theory and amplified it on cable news and Twitter. Even Mr. Trump, then merely a reality television star, joined the chorus, calling Mr. Welch’s bogus accusation “100 percent correct” and accusing the Obama administration of “monkeying around” with the numbers. It was one of the first lies to go viral on social media, and it had come from one of the most revered figures in the history of business.

When Mr. Welch died, few of his eulogists paused to consider the entirety of his legacy. They didn’t dwell on the downsizing, the manipulated earnings, the Twitter antics.

And there was no consideration of the ways in which the economy had been shaped by Mr. Welch over the previous 40 years, creating a world where manufacturing jobs have evaporated as C.E.O. pay soars, where buybacks and dividends are plentiful as corporate tax rates plunge.

By glossing over this reality, his allies helped perpetuate the myth of his sainthood, adding their own spin on one of the most enduring bits of disinformation of all: the notion that Jack Welch was the greatest C.E.O. of all time.

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Jack Welch ran General Electric from 1981 to 2001 and helped reshape the US business landscape.

In "The Man Who Broke Capitalism", NY Times reporter David Gelles evaluates Welch's legacy.

Gelles says Welch was responsible for aggressive layoffs and populism that helped elect Trump.

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Thanks for the article. The first useful post on this site in quite some time.

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