Jack Welch, the legendary chief executive of General Electric who turned it into a company worth more than $400bn, has died aged of 84.
During the two decades that he ran the US conglomerate, Mr Welch made it into the world’s second most valuable firm after Microsoft – presiding over a stock surge of almost 3,000pc.
The former GE boss’s blunt style and endless cost cutting earned him the moniker “Neutron Jack”. He also mentored protégés who went on to run some of the world’s best-known companies and was named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine in 1999.
Mr Welch transformed the company from a maker of appliances and light bulbs into an industrial and financial services powerhouse.
He died at home on Sunday surrounded by his family. The businessman’s death was caused by renal failure after a long fight with illness, his wife Suzy said.
The son of a train conductor, Mr Welch became GE’s youngest ever chief executive in 1981 and went on to mould the company’s culture to reflect his demanding personality.
“I like challenging people. I like debate. I like all those things,” he told interviewer Charlie Rose less than two months after his 2001 retirement.
“And yet I love having a drink with them, too.”
Mr Welch stepped down four days before the Sept 11 terrorist attacks but remained active for more than a decade as a consultant and media commentator.
He invented the “vitality curve”, in which managers were ranked into three groups.
The top 20pc “A” group was “filled with passion, committed to making things happen”.
The “vital” 70pc “B” group was essential to the company and encouraged to join the As.
Then there was the bottom 10pc “C” group. In his 2001 book, Jack: Straight From the Gut, he said: “The underperformers generally had to go.”
Mr Welch cut GE’s workforce from 411,000 to 299,000 in his first five years as chief executive.
Born on Nov 19, 1935, in Massachusetts to Irish American parents, the businessman’s father was a conductor for the Boston & Maine Railroad and his mother was a homemaker.
He studied chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and received his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1960.
The same year Mr Welch joined GE as a chemical engineer in its plastics division. He became a vice president in 1972 and vice chairman seven years later before succeeding Reginald H Jones as chairman and chief executive officer at the age of 45.
The New York Times published a gushing editorial about his professional record upon his retirement in 2001.
“Mr Welch was a white-collar revolutionary, bent throughout his career at GE on championing radical change and smashing the complacency of the established order,” it said.
“His legacy is not only a changed GE, but a changed American corporate ethos, one that prizes nimbleness, speed and regeneration over older ideals like stability, loyalty and permanence.”
Mr Welch’s first marriage ended amicably in divorce after 28 years in 1987. He divorced his second wife after Harvard Business Review editor Suzy Wetlaufer revealed she had become romantically involved with Mr Welch while working on a story about him in 2001.
Unusually, Mr Welch did not blame the media for the attention the affair generated.
“Christ, if I was a journalist, I’d write a scandalous story,” Mr Welch told the CBS television news magazine 60 Minutes in a 2005 interview. “I mean, it’s a good story, but I don’t care. I fell in love.”