Words On Words

The Miami Herald's Business Monday Book Club.
Click here for information.

Music Reviews and Features
Dion Dimucci

Lester Bangs in Buffalo

Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous"

The Cure In Concert

Pearl Jam In Concert

History of Warner Brothers Music

Creolina's Cajun/Creole

People's Bar-B-Que and Soul Food

Originally published Monday, October 22, 2001

Jack: Straight from the Gut. Jack Welch, John A. Byrne. Warner Books. 496 pages

A bloated, ponderous, self-aggrandizing tome from the former GE Chairman.


Straight From The Gut? Unfortunately, this thing might have emerged from the wrong end of the author's alimentary canal. Those seeking insight and wisdom from the trials, tribulations and machinations of celebrated former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch will have to look elsewhere.

The genesis of this book, Welch says, occurred in 1998 with a profile of him by Business Week writer John Byrne (not the fantasy writer of the same name, unfortunately). Byrne's laudatory piece was a big, sloppy, wet kiss. It wouldn't be surprising if, after reading it, Welch smoked a cigarette, rolled over and fell asleep. No surprise, then, when the time came to take his retirement victory lap, the fawning Byrne was the ghostwriter of choice to write the mandatory memoir.

Welch's persona, as conveyed by Byrne, is engaging enough; part hale-fellow-well-met member of the Old Boy Golf-and-Tennis network, part curmudgeonly egotist.

"When I say `I', I mean 'we,'" he states, attempting generously to share credit. But it's clear throughout the text that Welch, as the personification of his company, is the star of the show. The scores of dropped GE names produce a mildly anesthetic effect. But at least those guys (with few female exception) got their cards punched by Chairman Jack, even though most readers likely don't know -- or care -- who they are.

But Welch's blustery bonhomie isn't totally charmless. The story begins decently enough as a Horatio Alger tale of a railroad conductor's son, an only child spoiled by a blunt-but-loving mother.

He works hard, gets a few breaks, studies diligently, gets caught with a co-ed with their knickers down in his car by campus cops, but is saved by a helpful department head.

As Welch begins his trajectory toward success, the tale becomes tedious and tendentious. He joins GE as a chemical engineer with a Ph.D. but is frustrated by the company's bureaucracy. Suddenly a self-styled rebel whose cause is his own success, the young engineer with apparently innate strategy, sales, marketing and management skills quickly climbs up the corporate ladder. Surprisingly, there's little time for reflection along the way, or even in retrospect. It's promotions, deals, triumphs and a very few failures for the rest of the book.

Not much personal stuff, either. He courts his wife at college, she makes a few subsequent cameo appearances, then -- four kids later -- they outgrow each other and divorce. Not surprisingly, Welch scores another, much younger mate, a year or so after the parting. He has a heart bypass operation but is back on the links shortly thereafter. And so on.

Though Welch fancies himself a rebel, he's a very traditional laissez-faire capitalist. The cult of personality surrounding him is not wholly unearned, as he deserves ample credit for GE's success, despite some observers' opinion that most of the firm's growth resulted from shrewd divestitures and acquisitions

But any purchaser of this book or its audio adaptations will be sorely disappointed if they crave a serious look at GE, the economy, business in general or any meaningful lessons from Chairman Jack.

Perhaps retirement, if he manages to pause and reflect, will provide Welch with the opportunity to create a book that is a little meatier and more worthwhile than this disappointingly bloated, ponderous, self-aggrandizing tome.


Like business books? Join the club.









©2004 Words on Words, All rights reserved.