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Jack, They Hardly Know Ye


News: Analysis & Commentary: Management

Jack, They Hardly Know Ye

John Q. Public is unaware of GE superstar John F. Welch

The results are in. America doesn't know Jack. John F. Welch, that is, General Electric Co.'s lame-duck chairman and all-time, intergalactic champ memoir-peddler. Sure, Time Warner Inc.'s book publishing unit may think enough of him and his reputation as one of America's foremost management thinkers to pay him a $7.1 million advance payment--more than the advances paid to either Pope John Paul II or General Colin L. Powell for their memoirs. But a new Business Week/Harris Poll discovered Welch's broad public recognition probably wouldn't necessarily put sales of the Welch tome in the same league as the works of Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark.

In fact, just 11% of the folks surveyed online said they were very familiar or even somewhat familiar with Welch. That's the same number drawn by Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos even after he was named Time Magazine's Person of The Year last December. Welch's recognition factor was also way below Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates (97%) and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (76%). Even New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner (68%) left Welch in the dust. Moreover, those who had some familiarity with Welch were hard pressed to say just what he does. Only 36% were able to identify him as the chief executive of America's most valuable company. More than half simply didn't know.

Welch is no stranger to Business Week, of course. For one thing, his book's co-author is one of our own, Senior Writer John A. Byrne. And Welch has appeared on our cover four times since becoming GE's chief in 1981--a sure sign that we think what he has to say is worth readers' time. But what about asking someone who might have to sell Welch's book? At The Bookery in Indialantic, Fla., owner Renee Shaw hadn't a clue who Welch was, even though her July 17 Publishers Weekly carried news of the $7.1 million deal. Can Time Warner sell the estimated 1.6 million copies of Welch's wisdom needed to make a profit of the book? "It ain't gonna fly," she concluded. Maybe 100,000 copies will sell--"at best."

She may be right. Then again, betting against Welch has never proved very smart. And even the BW poll shows clearly that many who know him respect him. Among the subset of poll respondents who said they did have some familiarity with Welch, one-third agreed with one or both of these glowing statements: "He is one of America's best managers," and "His ideas have helped make U.S. corporations far more competitive." And why not? Welch runs his business by the numbers, so why not judge him the same: In a little over 15 years, a $10,000 investment in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index would have grown to $91,000; the same investment in GE would have netted $347,000. Americans may not recognize Welch, but they certainly can recognize success.By Robert Barker in Indialantic, Fla.Return to top

TABLE

Jack Who? (extended)

Jack Who?

GE's CEO may be famous in business circles, but he's just a face in the

crowd to most Americans

1. How familiar are you with the following people?

Very Somewhat Not Very Not at all

Familiar Familiar Familiar Familiar

A) Alan Greenspan 45 31 11 13

B) Bill Gates 72 25 2 1

C) Warren Buffett 16 18 14 52

D) Al Dunlap 2 8 13 77

E) Jack Welch 4 7 13 76

F) Jeff Bezos 5 6 10 79

G) George Steinbrenner 33 35 15 17

2. Based on what you may know or have heard about, if you could pick one of

the following as someone who would you like to work for, who would it be?

A) Alan Greenspan 8

B) Bill Gates 46

C) Warren Buffett 6

D) Al Dunlap *

E) Jack Welch 2

F) Jeff Bezos 2

G) George Steinbrenner 5

H) Not Sure 30

3. Based on what you may know or have heard about, is Jack Welch:

A) The owner of the Dallas Cowboys 1

B) The CEO of General Electric 36

C) The head of a major Hollywood film studio 1

D) Winner of the Senior U.S. Open 1

E) Founder of Amazon.com 2

F) The CEO of General Motors 2

G) U.S. senator 1

H) Not sure 56

4. Based on what you may know or have heard about, do you think that Jack

Welch is best known for his views on:

A) Concern over global warming *

B) Reforming campaign finance 2

C) Raising educational standards across the country 1

D) Overhauling Social Security 1

E) Improving management and performance at U.S. corporations 35

F) Developing innovative ways to finance the arts 1

G) Not sure 60

Based on what you may know or have heard about, do you agree or disagree

about the following statements about Jack Welch?

AGREE DISAGREE NOT SURE

1) He has succeeded by rewarding shareholders

but at the expense of his workers 10 17 73

2) He is one of America's best managers 34 3 63

3) He has put corporate profitability ahead

of broader social concerns 13 13 74

4) His ideas have helped make U.S. corporations

far more competitive 33 2 64

This Harris QuickQuery survey was conducted by Harris Interactive via the

Harris Poll Online within the U.S. from July 18-20, 2000. The poll was

conducted online among 2,075 respondents. Figures for age within gender, race,

education, region, income, and employment were weighted where necessary to

bring them into line with their actual proportions in the U.S. population.

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