Among the most popular titles we presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis were those from Jack Welch. These were three best in his collection, and two of them were delivered by Randy Mayeux:
Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book (with Suzy Welch, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999)
Jack: Straight from the Gut (Hachette Book Group, 2003)
The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career (Suzy Welch, HarperCollins Publishers, 2015)
Welch lived between November 19, 1935 and March 1, 2020. For the 19 years when I taught Management, Welch was considered top of his game. You may remember that I was a corporate trainer for many years. But, how many people that Welch a was teacher in classroom while he was President and CEO? Many corporate officers did not even know had a training department, let alone teaching in one.
One of the best books about Welch is Control Your Destiny Or Someone Else Will: How Jack Welch is Making General Electric the World’s Most Competitive Corporation by Noel Tichy and Stratford Sherman (Doubleday, 1993).
As a professional, Welch was an American business executive, chemical engineer, and writer. He was chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) between 1981 and 2001. When he retired from GE, he received a severance payment of $417 million, the largest such payment in business history. Welch greatest fan was Noel Tichy, was author of the first book we every presented the First Friday Book Synopsis, (The Leadership Engine with Eli Cohen, HarperBusiness, 2002). I heard Tichy several times in person.
When he started his run, skeptics wondered how much of a difference the Welch could make in a company that was huge, profitable, and more than 100 years old. To the surprise of many Welch pushed the company to double-digit growth during his two decades at the helm. During the 20 years he led the company, its market value grew from $12 billion to $410 billion.
Here are some of the major quotes from his books:
- “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”
- “Strong managers who make tough decisions to cut jobs provide the only true job security in today’s world. Weak managers are the problem. Weak managers destroy jobs.”
- “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
- “Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act.”
- “If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it you almost don’t have to manage them.”
- “The essence of competitiveness is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important – and then get out of their way while they do it.”
- “I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.”
- “Willingness to change is a strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.”
- “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.”
- “Be candid with everyone.”
To attract the right followers, Welch instituted a strategy that earned him the title of “Neutron Jack.” Welch insisted that all of GE’s divisions be market leaders. ″Fix it, close it or sell it,” he was fond of saying. He had GE cut all businesses in which the company could not dominate the market in first or second positions. He had managers fire the bottom 10% of GE employees, and he fired the bottom 10% of management. Welch’s housecleaning cleared away layers of bureaucracy, and made way for a quicker flow of ideas. The new commitment to competition came with large rewards, especially as stock option grants increased in value and GE continued to grow rapidly. GE soon became one of the most coveted places to work and attracted the best in the world
Fortune magazine once called him “manager of the century.” His books are well worth re-reading. He gave great insight about management and leadership, in a way that no else has ever duplicated.
So, here’s the request that came in an e-mail:
We are going on a cruise in September and I want to load my Kindle with three books. What are the three best books you would recommend for my reading? The request came from a very sharp, keen-minded, successful, independent business consultant. He attends one of our book synopsis events. This is my attempt to answer his question.
I am tempted to simply list some of my all time favorite reads (not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, although they are close — but definitely books that I am very glad I have read), like: The Doorbell Rang, one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries, by Rex Stout; and The Powers That Be and The Reckoning by the truly great David Halberstam; and Defining a Nation, edited by the same Halberstam.
And then there is this: what are the business books from the last few years (and even a little longer ago) that should be on your “I’ve definitely read that book” list? I would certainly include Good to Great by Jim Collins; something Gladwell (it’s tough to choose — probably Outliers); Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf and The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy; almost anything, but definitely at least one thing, by Peter Drucker. Add to this The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, and a major personal favorite, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
But – I still have not answered the question. If I had but three books to load on my Kindle for a September cruise, what titles would I choose? Here’s a list of five; you will have to narrow it down to the three that most interest you.
Choice #1: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize winner with his earlier book Guns, Germs, and Steel, has written a tour de force in Collapse, sweeping us through the societies that collapsed, and providing warnings regarding the decisions societies make. An important book!
Choice #2: Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, or, The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Of course, the Wright book is the heftier of the two; it won the Pulitzer, and provides an amazing education about the rise of Al-Queda, what went into their thinking, and especially their animosity toward the West. But there is a personal tone and a very personal take on life in the strict Muslim world of Saudi Arabia in Carmen Bin Laden’s book — the former wife of Yeslam, one of the brothers of Osama Bin Laden. It is a captivating read, and noticeably shorter than The Looming Tower. (You can tell, from this response, that I think we ought to seek to understand this “other” culture that is so foreign to our own).
Choice #3: OK, which two business books to put on the list? Not necessarily which books to read for enjoyment, but which books provide the most important and useful information? I list two choices. I would put The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert Cooper, because everyone would benefit from reading an occasional “let’s aim high, and take things higher” book. Unfortunately,this book is not available for the Kindle. (Yes, I checked on all the others). So, for this category of business book, I recommend The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. (I haven’t yet read the new Schwartz book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, which could be a better choice). And, for the other business book, I would have to go with The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, just because I think it deals with the complexity of this age and provides really valuable suggestions. (And, it gives every patient going in to surgery an important question to ask his or her surgeon: “do you use a checklist?”).
And you will notice that there are no novels on my list. I read about a novel a decade (except for my relatively frequent re-reading of the Nero Wolfe mysteries). But I have actually bought a novel – in the past week. It is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I might actually read it – one of these days soon.
Two personal footnotes:
#1 – thanks, Tom, for providing a great idea for a blog post. I apologize for answering you in this fashion.
#2 — And, it would be interesting to have Bob Morris give his list of “only three” in response to this request? I’m pretty sure he would have different titles – all absolutely worth the investment of a Kindle purchase and a few hours of reading. So many books… so little time!
update: I definitely should have put The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis into the mix — as the book I would recommend to help you understand the financial meltdown of the last couple of years. So now I am up to six to choose from, to then narrow down to three. Sorry about that.