The Man Who Broke Capitalism: The Rise and Fall of Jack Welch and GE (Free PDF Download)
The Man Who Broke Capitalism: A Book Review
If you are interested in learning more about the history and impact of one of the most influential and controversial figures in American business, you might want to read The Man Who Broke Capitalism by David Gelles. This book is a captivating and revealing account of how Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (GE), transformed GE into a global powerhouse, but also ushered in a new, cutthroat era of American capitalism that has led to many social and economic problems today.
The Man Who Broke Capitalism is a book written by David Gelles, a reporter and columnist for The New York Times. Gelles has covered business, technology, and sustainability for more than a decade, and has interviewed many prominent leaders and entrepreneurs. In this book, he draws on his extensive research and interviews to tell the story of Jack Welch, who was the CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001.
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Jack Welch is widely regarded as one of the most successful and admired CEOs in history. He grew GE into the most valuable company in the world, and was praised for his visionary leadership, innovation, and management skills. He was also known as a celebrity CEO, who golfed with presidents, mingled with movie stars, and wrote best-selling books. However, Gelles argues that Welch's achievements were not based on some superior intelligence or business acumen, but rather on a ruthless pursuit of increasing GE's stock price and profits by any means necessary.
Gelles shows how Welch's strategies, such as downsizing, outsourcing, offshoring, mergers and acquisitions, financialization, and shareholder value maximization, had devastating effects on workers, consumers, innovation, and the economy. He also shows how Welch's legacy influenced many other companies and leaders who followed his example, creating an economy that is more concentrated, less dynamic, more unequal, and more unstable. He also offers some suggestions on how to undo Welch's legacy and create a more sustainable and humane form of capitalism.
This book is relevant today because it helps us understand how we got to where we are now in terms of our economic system and its challenges. It also helps us question some of the assumptions and myths that have shaped our views on capitalism and corporate America. It also provides some insights and lessons that can help us shape a better future for ourselves and our society.
Summary of the book
Jack Welch's rise to fame as the CEO of GE
The book begins by introducing Jack Welch as a young engineer who joined GE in 1960. He quickly rose through the ranks, impressing his bosses with his intelligence, charisma, and ambition. He became the youngest vice president in GE's history in 1972, and was appointed as the CEO in 1981. He inherited a company that was already successful and diversified, but he had a vision to make it even bigger and better.
Welch's vision was to make GE number one or number two in every market it operated in. He wanted to create a leaner, faster, more competitive company that could adapt to changing customer needs and market conditions. Welch's strategies to boost GE's stock price and profits
Welch had a simple mantra: "Fix it, close it, or sell it." He applied this to every business unit and division within GE, and demanded that they either become the leader in their market or get out of it. He also set aggressive targets for revenue growth, profit margins, and return on equity, and rewarded managers who met or exceeded them with generous bonuses and stock options. He also punished those who failed to deliver with demotions, pay cuts, or firings.
Welch also embraced financial engineering as a way to boost GE's earnings and stock price. He expanded GE Capital, the company's financial arm, which offered loans, leases, mortgages, insurance, and other financial products and services. GE Capital became a major source of profits for GE, accounting for more than half of its earnings by the late 1990s. Welch also used accounting tricks, such as "cookie jar" reserves and "big bath" charges, to smooth out earnings and meet Wall Street expectations.
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Another strategy that Welch employed was to acquire other companies that could add value to GE's portfolio. He made hundreds of deals during his tenure, spending more than $100 billion on acquisitions. Some of his most notable deals were the purchase of RCA (which owned NBC) in 1986 for $6.4 billion, the merger with Honeywell in 2001 for $45 billion (which was later blocked by European regulators), and the joint venture with Vivendi Universal in 2004 to create NBC Universal.
The negative consequences of Welch's legacy for workers, consumers, innovation, and the economy
While Welch's strategies may have boosted GE's performance in the short term, they also had many negative consequences for workers, consumers, innovation, and the economy in the long term. Here are some of them:
Welch's layoffs and outsourcing devastated many communities and workers who depended on GE for their livelihoods. He also reduced wages, benefits, pensions, and health care for many employees, while increasing his own compensation to astronomical levels. He created a culture of fear and stress within GE, where employees had to constantly compete with each other and prove their worth or face termination.
Welch's focus on financial engineering and shareholder value maximization led to a neglect of GE's core industrial businesses and innovation capabilities. He also engaged in risky and unethical practices that exposed GE to legal liabilities and reputational damage. For example, he was accused of insider trading, tax evasion, environmental pollution, fraud, bribery, price-fixing, and antitrust violations.
Welch's influence on other companies and leaders created a wave of corporate greed, corruption, and short-termism that harmed the economy and society. Many CEOs followed Welch's example and adopted his methods of cost-cutting, financialization, mergers and acquisitions, and shareholder value maximization. This resulted in a loss of jobs, wages, benefits, innovation, competition, and trust in the corporate sector. It also contributed to the rise of income inequality, financial instability, environmental degradation, and social unrest.
Analysis of the book
The strengths of the book
The book has many strengths that make it a compelling and insightful read. Here are some of them:
The book is well-researched and well-written, with a clear and engaging style that keeps the reader interested and informed. Gelles uses a variety of sources, such as interviews, documents, reports, articles, books, and data, to support his claims and arguments. He also provides a balanced and nuanced perspective, acknowledging Welch's achievements and contributions, but also exposing his flaws and failures.
The book is timely and relevant, as it addresses some of the most pressing issues and challenges facing our economy and society today. Gelles shows how Welch's legacy has shaped the current state of American capitalism and corporate America, and how it has affected various aspects of our lives, such as work, consumption, innovation, inequality, democracy, and the environment. He also offers some suggestions on how to reform and improve our economic system and corporate culture.
The book is provocative and challenging, as it questions some of the conventional wisdom and myths that have surrounded Welch and his leadership style. Gelles challenges