PW interviewed Jack Welch in his expansive Boston townhouse as the city dug out from blizzard snows. For an hour and a half, Welch, dressed casually in a blue shirt and slacks, sipped from a bottle of water and answered questions, no subject off the table. In conversation he is direct, animated and quick to respond. Suzy Welch, Jack's wife and coauthor, joined us briefly.
PW: Who wrote Winning?
Jack Welch: Suzy and I would talk about a chapter, and she would write what we called "the crappy first draft." Then I'd play with it, then she'd get it again. [The chapter] "Mergers and Acquisitions" must have had 12 iterations, back and forth.
PW: Why write the book in the first place? You're a busy man.
JW: I've had a lot of experiences in life. And I can really impart—I don't want to sound like a blowhard here—what worked and didn't work.
PW: Your first book was published on 9/11.
JW: That was the drop date. We did the interview on TheToday Show, and we saw this thing. Then we went out on the street, and people were crying. The book seemed like the dumbest, most insignificant thing. I never thought about it. Five or six weeks later, we regrouped.
PW: In Winning you mention the publishing industry in passing, and characterize it as not "flush." For years publishing has been facing a crisis of declining readership. Do you have any ideas on how readership in this country can be increased?
JW: Good books. Look at that, with 15 million copies. [Welch walks over to his desk and picks up a copy of Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life.] Suzy and I are going out to dinner with this fellow. Good books do knock it out of the park. If I had to speak in general terms, a publishing house thinks it has to publish lots of books. Wouldn't a publishing house be better off being more discriminating? All books begin to blur, except a few.
PW: What do you think is the key to success in business, publishing or otherwise?
JW: I believe to my toes that you have to be yourself. And you have to care more than the next person. I always say, "Energy, energize, edge, execute," but it's really passion.
PW:Some people in publishing love books yet they don't have that passion. Is it innate?
JW: It's clearly both. I see people who love books—I've been at two houses, Warner and HarperCollins—who don't have energy and energizing characteristics, and yet are good executors. But they have too many interests. Too many smart people have too many interests.
PW: What publicity will you be doing for the book?
JW: I'll show you my schedule. [Welsh retrieves several sheets of paper from the desk.] Listen, here it is. 60 Minutes, a launch party, then TheToday Show, then Tim Russert, then Charlie Rose that night, then O'Reilly that night, then Suzy is on TheToday Show. Fox and Friends. And I'm going to Wal-Mart; the CEO is having me there to pitch the book to all the store managers. Look at this stuff: MIT, Harvard, University of Notre Dame, University of Michigan, Columbia, NYU, Boston College, Wharton, Northwestern.
PW: It's like you're running for office.
JW: I love these things. That's why we're giving the money to charity, because we don't want to go to business schools and hawk books for our own benefit. All the proceeds go to charity.
PW: When I mentioned this interview to some people, they said, "Yeah, Neutron Jack." Or "remember the retirement package he got?" People in business may love you, but I'm not sure the general public does. Why is that?
JW: I had to do some tough things. In 1980, there's no question I had to take out lots of people. We were getting killed. But we added people all through the '90s, while other companies were slashing.
I went through a messy divorce. Divorce lawyers had a party. I had a contract in 1996 that they posted on the Web site of the FFC, that said I had planes, apartments, whatever, and in order to have that I would not leave for GE five years. And I retired, and I gave it back. Which makes for an interesting question. If you give it back, it looks like you did something wrong. If you keep it, you look like a greedy pig.
PW: You're over 70 now. What do you think of your life?
JW: I think it was a dream. I lived 18 miles from here, in a small house, 18 miles from here but 18 million from it in some ways. But my friends are out there, we go to Red Sox games together, we have reunions.
PW: Which relates to what you said before about being yourself.
JW: I think it's the greatest thing. My mother gave me that. I stammer, I'm short, I don't have any hair. But I feel very good about myself.