Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric who was once dubbed the “Manager of the Century,” died Sunday at his home, CNBC reported. He was 84.
Welch, who grew GE into a powerhouse thanks in part to an emphasis on keeping only the most productive employees on board, died of renal failure, according to the outlet, which reported that he was surrounded by his wife Suzy and his family.
“More than anything else — leader, business icon, management genius — more than those things, although they are all true too — Jack was a lifeforce made of love,” Suzy Welch, whom he married in 2004, told CNBC in a statement. “His irrepressible passion for people, all people, his brilliant curiosity about every-single-thing-on-earth, his gargantuan generosity of spirit toward friends and strangers alike — they added up to a man who was superhuman yet completely human at once.”
President Donald Trump also paid tribute to Welch on Twitter, calling him a “business legend.”
“There was no corporate leader like ‘Neutron’ Jack,” Trump wrote. “He was my friend and supporter. We made wonderful deals together. He will never be forgotten. My warmest sympathies to his wonderful wife & family.”
Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of GE, a business legend, has died. There was no corporate leader like “neutron” Jack. He was my friend and supporter. We made wonderful deals together. He will never be forgotten. My warmest sympathies to his wonderful wife & family!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2020
Born in Massachusetts in 1935 to a homemaker mother and a Boston & Maine Railroad conductor father, Welch got his start with GE in 1960 as a chemical engineer.
He became the company’s vice president in 1972, and worked his way up the ladder over the next decade, eventually earning a promotion to chairman and CEO in 1981, according to CNBC.
GE’s value rose from $12 billion in the year Welch started to $410 billion by the time he retired in 2001, the New York Post reported.
His leadership earned him the title of Fortune magazine’s “Manager of the Century” in 1999, which he held in addition to nicknames like “Neutron Jack,” a nod to his penchant for cutting jobs.
“Neutron Jack” stemmed from Welch’s so-called “vitality curve,” which ranked workers into three different groups depending on their productivity and value to the company.
The curve made managers identify their top 20 percent of performers, who were to be “nurtured,” and their bottom 10 percent, who were fired, according to a 2001 New York Times op-ed written when Welch retired.
The method led GE to cut its workforce by 112,000 people during Welch’s first five years in charge, CNBC reported, citing Welch’s 2001 book Jack: Straight From the Gut.
Welch retired from GE two days before the Sept. 11 World Trade Center terror attacks, and was praised in the Times op-ed at the time as a “white-collar revolutionary” who left a lasting impact not just on his company but on “American corporate ethos, one that prizes nimbleness, speed and regeneration over older ideals like stability, loyalty and permanence.”