So Jack Welch is dead. Sorry to speak ill of the dead, but no big loss. Remember when he retired? And then he fell in love with some younger woman, and his wife spilled the financial beans during the divorce proceedings? It turned out that in addition to being paid 10 king’s ransoms in his retirement package, General Electric’s stockholders then put themselves on the hook to pay for everything in his life, and I do mean everything:
Following disclosure of his affair with the editor of the Harvard Business Review, the captain of capitalism has been painted as a ruthless womanizer who let his shareholders pay for just about everything–right down to the GE light bulbs in his numerous homes. Jane Beasley Welch has emerged as the modern model of the savvy corporate wife: so clever that she thought to include an expiration date in her prenuptial agreement–and stayed married long enough to pass it.
With perhaps $1 billion at stake, the Welch divorce is a primer on how wealthy couples uncouple. The case also affords a window into the benefits that corporations lavish on retired top executives–everything, in Jack Welch’s case, from sports tickets to the lifetime use of GE-owned jets, with charge accounts at flower shops and one of New York’s most expensive dining establishments thrown in as well. Mostly, this is a story about how a man who routinely crushed adversaries when he ran a Fortune 500 empire was stopped in his tracks by his own wife.
…Despite Welch’s intentions to keep things private, Jane Welch filed an affidavit in Bridgeport, Conn., outlining the couple’s “extraordinary” standard of living–much of it compliments of General Electric. The next day, the New York Times ran a long article describing how GE pays for the apartment the Welches occupied on Central Park West, membership fees at five country clubs and full staffs and services at homes in Florida, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
By Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission had begun an informal inquiry into Welch’s compensation agreement. Welch himself penned a column in Monday’s Wall Street Journal revealing that he offered last week to give up many of his retirement benefits–and the GE board accepted.
In other words, this titan of capitalism was…a welfare queen, basically. Light bulbs. Imagine the amount of cheek it takes to do whatever one must do to accept light bulbs from the people who thought they were investing in your company. Do you place an order? Does your household manager do it? Do they send over an assorted case? Or do you put in for reimbursement?
God, I remember that era – the ’80s, ’90s, around in there? Every third book in the bookstore was by one of these guys, delivering their secrets of success. (In airports, it was every other book.)
As the Washington Post’s Helaine Olen notes, Welch was really even worse:
Welch popularized the concept known as “shareholder value,” the idea that the primary duty of a company’s management is to increase its stock price for the benefit of shareholders. In pursuit of this goal, he bought and sold companies, shedding huge numbers of employees along the way. GE’s share prices soared. For this, Welch was celebrated: imitated by competitors and lionized by the fawning business press.
Never mind the fact Welch routinely closed GE’s Rust Belt factories and moved the jobs to Third World locales, where workers labored for less — much, much less — than the former GE employees. Never mind the fact that he cut funding for research and development, something that can undermine a company’s long-term health. And never mind the fact that the humane postwar arrangement between corporations and their employees — give us your loyalty and we’ll take care of you as best we can — ended in part because of Welch. He made money for shareholders, and that was the important thing.
So no, I will not be shedding any tears for Jack. Suzy Wetlaufer Welch – the woman he left Jane for – will come out ahead, no doubt. I’ve always said the best job in the world is to be the ex-wife of one of these goons. Maybe the second-best one is the widow, especially when you’re still young enough to enjoy it. The widow Welch is 61; she’ll be fine.
Oh, wait: There’s one more book on the stand. From 2006:
When Jack and Suzy met almost three years ago, they had much that seemed good in their lives. They traded it-his wife, her job, both of their reputations-for what they say is true love. The result was a storm the size of which neither one had ever seen. And now reporters are calling again. Jack and Suzy are writing a book about business strategy. Jack and Suzy have bought a house on Beacon Hill. Jack and Suzy are getting married. Jack and Suzy are in the news.
…Suzy Wetlaufer is not an easy woman to pigeonhole. She’s a Harvard-educated novelist, a brilliant thinker who some say was the best editor the Harvard Business Review ever had. She’s a devout Christian who attends Bible study regularly, but she’s also a woman who is partial to French manicures and shopping for designer clothes. She can expound on the situation in Iraq in one breath and blurt out things like, “Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs,” or, “Get out of town!” in another. When complimented, she may even exclaim, “I love you!” punctuated by a giant kissing sound. And yet, says Jack, “She’s the smartest person I know. I told her that on our second date.”
Good lord, imagine writing that crap. Why are all these little home wreckers devout Christians who attend Bible study regularly? Mrs. Gingrich, all the rest of them.
So now it’s Super Tuesday evening, and I’m watching the returns come in with the same blankness I’ve had all season. Just tell me who I’m voting for in November.
I guess we’ll know soon. Have a good hump day, eh?