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"O'Boyle has researched and written a monumental book that should be mandatory reading for all CEOs and anyone concerned with business ethics." --The Philadelphia Inquirer "Superb . . . a spirited study of General Electric, and of its sometimes brilliant, sometimes bungling, but always ruthless boss, Jack Welch."                               --Chicago Sun-Times With convinc "O'Boyle has researched and written a monumental book that should be mandatory reading for all CEOs and anyone concerned with business ethics." --The Philadelphia Inquirer "Superb . . . a spirited study of General Electric, and of its sometimes brilliant, sometimes bungling, but always ruthless boss, Jack Welch."                               --Chicago Sun-Times With convincing passion and meticulous research, Thomas F. O'Boyle explores the forces behind General Electric's rise to the top of Wall Street, questioning if GE, with chief executive officer Jack Welch at the helm, is still "bringing good things to life."        Welch--explosive, profit-hungry, and pragmatic--catapulted GE's stocks to the top, up 1,155 percent from 1982 to 1997. O'Boyle argues that these astounding results have come only with the heavy price of employees' lives, blighted under the tyranny of "Neutron Jack" Welch, so named for his bomb-like ability to eliminate staff without disturbing surrounding operations. During Welch's reign, hard-nosed success tactics--unblinking downsizing, ruthless acquisition negotiations, and the virtual abandonment of manufacturing in favor of the more glamorous entertainment and financial services industries--coexist with scandals like price-fixing, pollution, and defense contract fraud. Sure to spark controversy, this gripping, comprehensive account begs the greater question: Is Jack Welch's GE a model company for business in the next century, or is it time to change the way the world does business? "Smoothly written and thoroughly researched." --USA Today "This book makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of corporate America. . . . Thomas F. O'Boyle persuades you that GE--Jack Welch's GE--brings bad things to life. In abundance."         --Washington Monthly


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"O'Boyle has researched and written a monumental book that should be mandatory reading for all CEOs and anyone concerned with business ethics." --The Philadelphia Inquirer "Superb . . . a spirited study of General Electric, and of its sometimes brilliant, sometimes bungling, but always ruthless boss, Jack Welch."                               --Chicago Sun-Times With convinc "O'Boyle has researched and written a monumental book that should be mandatory reading for all CEOs and anyone concerned with business ethics." --The Philadelphia Inquirer "Superb . . . a spirited study of General Electric, and of its sometimes brilliant, sometimes bungling, but always ruthless boss, Jack Welch."                               --Chicago Sun-Times With convincing passion and meticulous research, Thomas F. O'Boyle explores the forces behind General Electric's rise to the top of Wall Street, questioning if GE, with chief executive officer Jack Welch at the helm, is still "bringing good things to life."        Welch--explosive, profit-hungry, and pragmatic--catapulted GE's stocks to the top, up 1,155 percent from 1982 to 1997. O'Boyle argues that these astounding results have come only with the heavy price of employees' lives, blighted under the tyranny of "Neutron Jack" Welch, so named for his bomb-like ability to eliminate staff without disturbing surrounding operations. During Welch's reign, hard-nosed success tactics--unblinking downsizing, ruthless acquisition negotiations, and the virtual abandonment of manufacturing in favor of the more glamorous entertainment and financial services industries--coexist with scandals like price-fixing, pollution, and defense contract fraud. Sure to spark controversy, this gripping, comprehensive account begs the greater question: Is Jack Welch's GE a model company for business in the next century, or is it time to change the way the world does business? "Smoothly written and thoroughly researched." --USA Today "This book makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of corporate America. . . . Thomas F. O'Boyle persuades you that GE--Jack Welch's GE--brings bad things to life. In abundance."         --Washington Monthly

30 review for At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit

  1. 4 out of 5

    Madan

    First things first, let me talk about how I came to pick up this book published in 1999 about Jack Welch's tenure as the CEO of GE. I had been vaguely aware of bad news tumbling out of GE as Immelt left followed not too long after by Flannery as well. What was going wrong at a company widely regarded as an institution, as a trailblazer in management (not least because of Welch's own management books)? Articles carried by media outlets as well as answers on Quora threw some light. And in the cour First things first, let me talk about how I came to pick up this book published in 1999 about Jack Welch's tenure as the CEO of GE. I had been vaguely aware of bad news tumbling out of GE as Immelt left followed not too long after by Flannery as well. What was going wrong at a company widely regarded as an institution, as a trailblazer in management (not least because of Welch's own management books)? Articles carried by media outlets as well as answers on Quora threw some light. And in the course of this internet rabbit hole expedition, I learnt of this book. I was astounded that somebody had dared to write this book back when Welch was regarded as THE model CEO. Of course I had to get it and so I did. As expected, the author dredges up the sordid details of the many close shaves with the law that GE and Welch had as the push to improve profit "at any cost" forced managers to give ethics a wide berth (the chapter about Rami Dotan could belong in a Le Carre novel and the De Beers one in a Grisham bestseller). It is also revealed, hand in hand, that for all their waxing eloquent about GE values, previous CEOs of GE were no angels either. In a way, perhaps, Welch was at least less of a hypocrite. The impact of his elegantly simple but perhaps reductive mantra of only remaining in businesses where GE was either no.1 or no.2, however, was less positive as many factories were shuttered and workers laid off. The repercussions of such approaches to businesses have also been felt not only across America but worldwide. The author repeatedly points to Germany and Japan as strong counter examples. Maybe so but here in Mumbai, India, I have seen profitable pharmaceutical/chemical plants be closed down not because they were no longer profitable but because the land would fetch a handsome price given Mumbai's astronomical real estate prices. When I see a swanky pub built where an ice factory used to stand (with the pub retaining the name ice factory in some twisted form of nostalgia), I am not just pleased to see 'change'/'evolution'. I also think about where did the workers who would have once toiled there go (hint: nowhere). That is to say, the GE formula was imitated tens of thousands of miles away from America. This central theme running through the book is what makes it so interesting, as the author captures the corrosion of GE's values (Welch's drive to create a workplace of ruthless battle hardened warriors backfires when some of those laid off decide to sue GE and wash dirty linen in public). But also the values of perhaps a nation and, again, the world at large, as naked pursuit of self interest reigned above all. To the argument that what's wrong with self interest, my response would be that self interest CAN take forms that are good for a CEO but not necessarily for the organisation and maybe not even for the economy. For example, ditching slow growing businesses may improve the stock price in the short run but in the long run may leave the organisation over dependent on a few golden geese that may one day run out of those precious golden eggs (in a nutshell, this is what happened to GE as the same financial services biz that propelled its skyrocketing growth in the 80s and the 90s brought it down on its knees with the meltdown of 2008). I would like to make another, less moralistic point though which is related to the above example. The larger lesson to draw from the story of GE as narrated by Thomas F O'Boyle (one where the author has been vindicated in hindsight) is that qualities like aggression, tenacity, resilience can take many forms. Perhaps, at the time when Welch took over from Reg Jones, aggression and tenacity were needed to see through a dramatic restructuring plan to shake up GE out of complacency, cut its flab and get it competition-ready again. However, this by itself can be taken too far where shutting down a business that is not instantly producing incredible results is little more than a sign of impatience. In other words, a lack of fight and tenacity. There is a case to be made that at certain times, digging in one's heels and preparing for the long haul may reward the company and THAT is resilience too. GE needed both kinds of resilience but it would appear only the first kind was in abundance during Welch's tenure and since then. The most prescient insight produced by the author is his reflection on the impact of GE on the economy and what indeed it could spell for the politics in the USA. Remember, again, that this book was written in the 90s as I produce the below chilling extract: "Today, although there's a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town, the factories and downtown stores are mostly gone. So, too, are the manufacturing jobs that supported whole families, and gone with them the faith in the future they represented. [] To some extent, then, it is not surprising that frustrated, angry men would turn out one snowy February night to hear Mark Koernke, one of the chief spokesmen of the country's growing militia movement, [] No doubt some were passionate "gun people"; Meadville is in a mostly rural area where hunting remains a way of life. No doubt some were military castoffs, tax evaders, survivalists, misanthropes, anti-Semites or white supremacists. But some who heard Koernke's message of hatred and distrust were another type of dispossessed - conservative, patriotic, God-fearing men who once voted for Ronald Reagan and once belived in the rules but now think they no longer apply. They are men who search for meaning in a world that has passed them by and doesn't care about their welfare." Of course, given the heady boom of the 90s, these words were not heeded. Reminds me of how a, admittedly not well made, film showing the nexus of corporates and politicians in India came out in 2006 and was badly received, not for artistic reasons but because the people didn't like its message. The same message, in essence, that 6 years later, they would embrace and cry out in mass protests against the govt. A criticism of the book voiced by many is that it is one sided. And I agree. But, on the one hand, perhaps it was in Mr Welch's hands to remedy this by giving the author the time of day. And on the other, as said earlier, the Welch myth was then so potent that too balanced a case against him may not have had much of an impact. A slightly demonising counterpoint to the excessive idol worship of CEOs in the 90s was perhaps in order and shows great guts on the part of the author in going against the grain. One other criticism which I do have of the book is I am not entirely convinced by his efforts to pin it all on GE. The other corporations did have a choice. And as he shows, there were others who chose a different route and thrived in the same period that Welch could apparently only make money by shutting down industrial businesses and buying up service sector ones (I exaggerate, of course). Therefore, the companies which took the easy way out by imitating GE are responsible for their own choices and it is not GE's fault for showing them the way. Nobody HAD to take GE's lead. People did for the same reason that Bud Fox was so much in thrall of Gordon Gekko. Whether or not greed is indeed good, it certainly feels good.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarmiento

    One sided to the point that one feels the need to get the other side of the story immediately after reading the book. When writing a book like this it far more convincing when you at least make an honest effort at objectivity before drawing such sweeping rationalizations. That said the book is written in a compelling style that makes it a satisfying experience on a visceral level but on an intellectual level it's missing that ingredient which should leave the reader with a sense of getting a ful One sided to the point that one feels the need to get the other side of the story immediately after reading the book. When writing a book like this it far more convincing when you at least make an honest effort at objectivity before drawing such sweeping rationalizations. That said the book is written in a compelling style that makes it a satisfying experience on a visceral level but on an intellectual level it's missing that ingredient which should leave the reader with a sense of getting a full picture of events. Read and then do your own research.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Dowling

    While the stories were good, I wonder exactly who's point of view was documented throughout the book. Seemed very one sided- which is fine, but left me wondering the validity of the tale. While the stories were good, I wonder exactly who's point of view was documented throughout the book. Seemed very one sided- which is fine, but left me wondering the validity of the tale.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    My dad wrote this book 11 years ago and I'm finally reading it! My dad wrote this book 11 years ago and I'm finally reading it!

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    A little dated-but a great comment on the state of the business world. Although Jack Welch can be blamed on many things (like the relentless pursuit of profit), it doesn't seem fair to pin past misdeeds on him, like the PCB's in the Hudson River. I did learn a lot about the Price Fixing scandal, though, and how a CEO's attitude can permeate an organization. A little dated-but a great comment on the state of the business world. Although Jack Welch can be blamed on many things (like the relentless pursuit of profit), it doesn't seem fair to pin past misdeeds on him, like the PCB's in the Hudson River. I did learn a lot about the Price Fixing scandal, though, and how a CEO's attitude can permeate an organization.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    The not-so favorable account of GE's "miracles," maybe not so startling now after various meltdowns. The not-so favorable account of GE's "miracles," maybe not so startling now after various meltdowns.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maureen Doyle

  8. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Santana

  9. 5 out of 5

    JAIME LEONART TOMAS

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mike Haley

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adam Wilson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jen Li

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrei Viziteu

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Bailey

  15. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

  16. 5 out of 5

    Silla

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marko Rillo

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christian Turcu

  20. 5 out of 5

    Annie Wang

  21. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  22. 4 out of 5

    Terry Sullivan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Donald

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jaimit Doshi

  25. 5 out of 5

    Raji Khabbaz

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shane Mcconnell

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carole Chastaing

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  29. 5 out of 5

    Adarsh Mishra

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Smith

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