Business Superstar Jack Welch Dies at 84

Jack Welch, Plastic Hall of Fame
Welch was a strong supporter of the plastics industry. Image courtesy Plastic Hall of Fame.

The death of John (Jack) Francis Welch Jr., best known for his leadership as chairman and CEO of industrial giant General Electric (GE) from 1981 to 2001, was announced this morning. He was 84. Welch was born on Nov. 19, 1935, in Salem, MA. He was the son of a railroad conductor; his mother was a homemaker.

Welch received his B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, and M.S. and PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois. He began his career with GE in 1960 as a chemical engineer in its plastics division in Pittsfield, MA. During that time, he was instrumental in helping the division develop modified polyphenylene oxide (Noryl), a revolutionary and widely used engineering thermoplastic, according to Welch’s profile in the Plastics Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in June 2006 during the National Plastics Exposition.

In 1972, Welch was appointed vice president of the company, and seven years later became vice chairman. In 1981, at age 45, he became GE’s eighth chairman and CEO in the company’s 121-year history. During his 20-year tenure in that position, he grew GE’s market value from $13 billion to $410 billion. Welch retired from GE in September of 2001.

During his career as chairman and CEO, Welch was known for his no-nonsense style of management and his intolerance for corporate bureaucracy. One nickname, which he didn’t much care for reportedly, was “Neutron Jack,” because of his slashing of thousands of jobs at the company to break up what he felt was “bureaucratic complacency.”

He was named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine in 2000.  His autobiography, Jack: Straight from the Gut, sold 10 million copies worldwide. He went on to write management books to teach others how to manage successfully, including Winning and Jack Welch and the 4E’s of Leadership. He and his third wife, Suzy, co-wrote The Real-Life MBA.

Welch was a strong supporter of plastics industry initiatives including the National Plastics Center and Museum, the Plastics Industry Association (formerly SPI), and the National Plastics Exposition.

One of Welch’s quotes that illustrates his management style is, “Control your destiny or someone else will.”

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