I interviewed Jack Welch as soon as and he scared the crap out of me.
With the passing of Welch at the age of 84, the legendary former CEO of General Electric, many individuals will write of his sensible enterprise strategizing, his relentless ruthlessness to refine and improve each the corporate and its staff, and his observe document in constructing maybe the final nice American conglomerate.
But for individuals who labored for, with and even towards Welch—or in my case, these journalists who interviewed him—there was one thing else about him that can perpetually be remembered. He may assault you and intimidate you maybe higher than anyone else in his variety of place.
I acquired the possibility to see that aspect of Jack Welch in 1978 when the corporate was celebrating what turned out to be one of a number of 100th anniversaries, this one marking the founding of the Edison Electric Co., one of the predecessors of the fashionable GE. At that point Welch was not but president of the complete firm, simply working a big division that included GE’s still-sizable client merchandise companies, together with main home equipment, smaller kitchen and family home equipment and lighting.
As a reporter for the enterprise journal HFD (initially Home Furnishings Daily however nonetheless going by its initials regardless that it was by then a weekly print publication), we organized to interview Welch at the corporate’s Connecticut headquarters.
In doing a little preparation for the interview, I got here throughout one thing that referred to Welch’s steel-blue eyes and the way they had been a drive to be reckoned with. I made a psychological be aware and hoped I wouldn’t do or say something to deliver them out.
On the day of the interview, we—the photographer, my boss who was very inquisitive about assembly Welch and myself—had been ushered into Welch’s workplace, massive and spectacular however not ostentatious if reminiscence serves me effectively.
Most of the interview was fairly commonplace about GE milestones, its place in American enterprise and its future. He was easy with out being curt, charming with out being obsequious, and informative with out getting caught up within the trivia.
He additionally spoke with a slight stutter. This was one thing I didn’t count on, having by no means seen or heard point out of it earlier than. It by no means stopped him from making his factors and, in hindsight, in by no means stopped him from quickly turning into an important businessman on the planet.
It wasn’t till one of my remaining questions that I actually met the Jack Welch others had talked about. The query needed to do with the function of American trade and whether or not it had fallen behind different world powers, particularly Japan, which at the time was on the ascent as a world enterprise powerhouse.
Welch leaned ahead in his chair, coming midway throughout his desk (in all probability extra figuratively than actually) and proceeded to inform me not solely how fallacious my query was—and seemingly how fallacious I used to be—however why American enterprise was by no means higher and would proceed to dominate the worldwide economic system.
The extra he talked, the decrease I sank in my chair, all of the whereas eyes down, furiously attempting to scribble his phrases into my reporter’s pocket book. It was solely once I appeared up as we had been each catching our breath that I noticed them: these extremely vibrant, metal blue eyes staring instantly at me. Neither Goldfinger’s laser nor Superman’s X-ray imaginative and prescient had something on these eyes.
After some face-saving closing pleasantries, the interview was over and we left, returning again to Manhattan. Not too lengthy afterwards, Welch was named CEO of General Electric and went on to have one of probably the most wonderful careers in American enterprise historical past.
Some 20 years later when he was on the point of retire I despatched him a letter requesting one other interview and, as was his hallmark all through his profession, I acquired a hand-written response on my unique letter thanking me for the provide however respectively declining. I doubt Jack Welch remembered that unique interview many years earlier than. But I positive did.
Those eyes at the moment are closed, however I can nonetheless see them—as vivid and penetrating as any lightbulb the General Electric Co. ever made.