We’re less than a month away from the release of Jack and Suzy Welch‘s newest work, The Real Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career (Harper Business, 2015). It is a certain best-seller, and pre-orders for the book are rocking the online outlets. Considering their personal backgrounds, perhaps you join me in being perplexed that even before its release, the book ranks #11 in the Amazon.com best-selling list in Business Ethics.
“Say what?” If you don’t know the story, here is a brief account. Suffice it to say that much more detail is available to you through the Internet. Jack’s second wife, Jane Beasley, found out about an affair between Suzy Wetlaufer and Welch. At the time, Suzy was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review. Beasley delivered this information to the publication, and Wetlaufer was forced to resign in early 2002 after admitting to having been involved in an affair with Welch while preparing an interview with him for HBR. Personal and professional ethics? This did not turn out too badly for Beasley. While Welch had crafted a prenupital agreement, she had insisted on a ten-year time limit for its enforceability, and therefore, left the marriage with around $180 million of Welch’s money. That interview was never published. Suzy and Jack married in 2004.
This is not their first co-authored book. Randy Mayeux presented their first one, Winning (Harper Business, 2005) at the First Friday Book Synopsis. It reached # 1 on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal business best-selling lists. We did not present their next co-authored work, Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today (Harper Business, 2006).
They both have another single-authored book. Randy presented a synopsis of Jack: Straight from the Gut (Business Plus, 2003). In 2010, Suzy wrote 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family (Scribner). Randy gave that synopsis to several of our Creative Communication Network clients. I remember that audiences we delivered that synopsis to were not exactly thrilled at the quality of information transferred. In fact, at the Fort Worth Club, our event planner remarked that she wished she would have selected another book. Maybe her reputation backfired on that one. Of course, she didn’t write that one way to get unstuck is to have an affair with a famous married man. It certainly worked for her.
Note that both of these authors are very competent and successful. History will likely write Jack as the most successful CEO in American history. His style and substance led General Electric to a fast and furious climb to the top of elite and powerful businesses. All the labels, such as “Neutron Jack,” are applicable. His decisions were profound and effective. And, he believed in lifelong learning and professional development, even teaching courses on-site at the GE Learning Center. Many CEO’s don’t even know their company has a learning center, let alone take the time to go teach in it. Suzy’s role at one of the most prestigious business publications gave her strong credibility, as did her work experience at Bain.
Considering their reputation, most likely, this one will also fly to the top. It is not out of the question that you might hear a synopsis of this at our event. In fact, many of our regular attendees may push us very hard to present it. It will be exciting to see what the sub-topics will be from the Table of Contents. Only time will tell whether this one is heavier on style than substance. The title alone is appealing.
But, ethics? Is this really the best resource?
Cheryl offers: October’s HBR article “Why Succession Shouldn’t Be a Horse Race” describes how Xerox’s former CEO Anne Mulcahy successfully identified, developed and eventually passed the CEO baton to Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company while also marking the first ever woman-to-woman succession. What was most interesting was how Anne deliberately worked to avoid Jack Welch’s famous departure when two of the three top candidates left with him once they learned Jeff Immelt had gotten the job. She said “I don’t believe in having people face off against each other for the CEO job in a classic horse race.” Kudos to her on two fronts: first for recognizing that losing valuable talent in this day and age is not good business and secondly for seeing collaboration is better for the business than competition when putting the best person in the job. GE lost 3 very talented employees when Jack left. Anne managed to retain her 3 top contenders after Ursula was named CEO, although one has since retired. This article reinforced a message I read in Women and Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah Rhode. In chapter 9 written by Marie C. Wilson, she notes “We need to fuel each other’s ambition, to give women the encouragement they need, and the courage embedded in that word. With our help, they can and will step forward and say, “I’m here. I can do this, and I want to lead.” This was written in 2007, just about the time Anne and Ursula were starting to write business history. Those who support the laws of natural attraction would say, “Of course!”
Cheryl offers: I subscribe to HBR for obvious reasons; it’s one of the most insightful professional pieces of business literature published. There is seldom an issue that doesn’t contain something I want to keep in my library of reference material. In the May issue entitled “How to Keep Your Star Talent: Engage your top performers, manage your Millennials, and coach tomorrow’s leaders” on the cover, I was all ready to dive in – that is, until I saw the graphic on the cover. If you haven’t seen it, let me describe it for you. There’s a person in the center with flowers, gifts, money, stock options, and prizes being handed to them, only them is a him. All I could think about is, here we go again, reinforcing stereotypes. Since when is the only “Star” talent one gender? I’m not advocating it be either/or (male, female); I’m advocating for a way to portray both equally (and). Surely the folks at HBR with all their talented contributors could figure out how to make that picture happen! So, while looking inside for who would receive my letter expressing my displeasure, I was shocked to see the names of 39 women as compared to 17 men on the Editor page, including a female art director! How can this be, I ask? As Maddy Dychtwald’s new book, Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform the World for the Better points out, women make up 51% of the workforce and last year women graduates exceeded men in every category of college and professional degrees. The valedictorians at Notre Dame and West Point are both women this year. How HBR could arrive at the graphic for their article with the overwhelming data advocating for a more inclusive picture of our future is a mystery to me. This time, they’ve gone too far and in the process, they lost me, maybe many more.
Cheryl offers: Sara and I teach a class at SMU titled “Leader as Coach” for MBA students. Last night we had a guest speaker, Matt Doherty, head basketball coach for the school. When we asked Matt about coming to talk to the students about the value he has seen in being a coach-like leader, he jumped at the chance. You see, he is a student of leadership himself and recognized this was another opportunity to learn. Matt shared some incredibly insightful stories from his life and career, including his time as head coach at Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina. Both had many similarities and many major differences. What struck me about Matt’s comments were his authenticity, candor, and willingness to tell these young professionals what he has learned about leadership. Example: leaders need to take the time to get to know people, show a sincere desire to listen to their ideas, and learn to become self aware enough to make better decisions. He also acknowledged both the existence of the positive and dark sides to striving for achievement. The reading for this week’s class was the #1 HBR article in 2008, “Leadership Run Amok” co-authored by a friend of ours, Scott Spreier. As he acknowledged, “The drive to achieve is tough to resist.” He also, very thoughtfully, opened their eyes to the possibilities if they do not themselves learn to understand what drives them and how it affects others. For us, being a “coach-like” leader is not like being a sports coach unless the coach is one who values others, is willing to listen, is open to new ideas, invests time in developing others, and takes the time to be human. No one was ever more human than Matt Doherty last night.
The things you can read on an airplane.
David Champion is a senior Editor at Harvard Business Review. U S Air ran his article How the Gambler Kings Brought Down the Financial House. (read it here). He looks back to the book, Barbarians at the Gate, and gives brief treatments of the newer books House of Cards (about Bear Stearns) and A Colossal Failure of Common Sense (about Lehman Brothers). As I read the article, it seemed to me that the real problem – not new, and not unique to the financial sector — is an almost intentional blindness to reality by far too many leaders and their companies. Here’s the gripping, concluding paragraph from his article:
Both books left me depressed. They are, at heart, celebrations of the hero gambler. It’s as if the concept of management and the reality of Wall Street were mutually exclusive. Advisory groups and executive committees are presented essentially as rubber stamps for the leadership; they assumed an important role only after the leaders’ mistakes became apparent. If these books offer a fair representation of how a Wall Street investment bank operates, not much has really changed over the past 100 years. Will it ever?
Why such colossal failure? Part of the blame has to go to our universities. What kind of education produced these kinds of people? (I’ve written earlier about the decline of the humanities, prompted by an article in Harper’s – which I think contributes to this).
But part of the answer has to be this: Unless there is genuine regulation and oversight, we simply cannot expect truly better days. If we expect companies, and leaders of these companies, to do the “right things” out of the goodness of their own hearts, then we are blind ourselves. History reveals that without genuine guardians, people will go around and abuse whatever system is in place.
We woke up this morning to the news that Iran has secretly built another nuclear facility, without proper and expected international inspection. They are not too keen on letting inspectors in. It is as though they said, “trust us and we will do the right things.”
Ronald Reagan was a huge opponent of regulation, but in one arena, he knew we needed it. Well, maybe it’s time for all of us to embrace and follow Ronald Reagan’s advice, in business as well as in international nuclear relations: “Trust, but verify.”
Cheryl’s view: It seems Jack Welch should play more golf and resist the temptation of making speeches. On July 21 the Wall Street Journal reported he delivered what I’m sure he thought was “straight talk” like he thinks he did in his book, Straight from the Gut. He told a convention of HR executives women had to choose between raising a family and having the corner office. Which rock have you been hiding under Jack? Maybe he forgot that last year’s CEO of the year as elected by peer CEOs, was Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox, and mother of two sons. And I supposed he also hasn’t noticed Mulcahy passed the reins to the first Afro-American woman to lead an S&P 100 company, Ursula Burns, and (Oh, gasp Jack!) also happens to have a daughter and stepson. When Jack Welch entered the workforce and even possibly when he led General Electric, this might have been a “norm”, possibly his own stereotype at work. This is no longer the case. Jack might also want to start reading the stats on graduating MBAs; women in 2009 will surpass men in all categories: associate, bachelor, graduate and professional. By the way, the gap between men and women has been widening since 1982, the last year men exceeded women in acquiring degrees, in college degrees and is projected to continue until 2017, which is only as far as the projection goes. So, where will the most talented, experienced, and well educated people in the company come from, the future CEOs? My money is on the next generation of women, who, by the way, believe the wisdom of his other book’s title “Control Your Own Destiny, or Someone Else Will.” Thanks for the advice, Jack, now go play golf.
Sara adds: Jack, in the words of James Copeland, former Chairman and CEO of Deloitte & Touche worldwide in True Leaders (Bette Price and George Ritchesche), “Don’t breath your own exhaust.” Your pronouncement in the Journal is contemptible (a carefully chosen word from Merriam Webster’s online dictionary… “contemptible may imply any quality provoking scorn or a low standing in any scale of value.” The italics are mine). I believe your comments to be contemptible; having a low standing in any scale of value on a couple of levels. First level, you single out women leaders. Besides being transparently biased your idea begs the question, why shouldn’t ALL leaders, men and women, have the opportunity to have a life as well as incredibly successful careers? Then there’s the next level. It’s about BUSINESS RESULTS, Jack, not about appearances or sacrifice. By even uttering that comment I wonder if you’ve lost focus on the prize here. Jack, you should read a new Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership (Richard Boyatzis and Daniel Goleman). It stands your antiquated version of leadership on its ear. In the article you will read about the negative impact a leader’s stressed lifestyle has on the success of the company they lead. The authors also provide a pathway to leadership that is healthy, balanced and produces great (get that, Jack, GREAT) business results. I wonder what heights GE could have climbed if YOU had been a different kind of leader.