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At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit Paperback – September 7, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (September 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705678
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705670
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,188,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

No contemporary business leader has been so widely acclaimed as Jack Welch of General Electric. Welch's transformation of GE into one of America's most profitable and valuable companies has been chronicled already in several other books, most recently Jack Welch and the GE Way by Robert Slater. Now comes journalist Thomas F. O'Boyle to take Welch down a notch--or two or three. Where other books wholeheartedly endorse Welch's gung-ho style of leadership, At Any Cost finds much to abhor.

O'Boyle, an editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, holds Welch personally responsible for various scandals over the years at some of GE's multifarious appendages, from contract fraud in its defense business (later sold) to faked crash tests of GM trucks on Dateline NBC. Welch's single-minded devotion to winning drives his subordinates to cut corners, O'Boyle suggests, though the author offers little evidence to implicate Welch in these or other lapses by a few of GE's 276,000 employees.

O'Boyle is actually more interested in nailing Welch for many of America's social problems. He believes that mass layoffs at GE in the 1980s made downsizing fashionable. GE's success in enriching shareholders encouraged other corporations to curry favor with Wall Street while ignoring their impact on the rest of society. The results have been catastrophic for many families and communities. So even in good times, American workers are plagued by a sense of insecurity. O'Boyle implies that Welch's pernicious influence can be seen in the divorce rate and even in the paranoia that produced the bombing of the Tulsa federal building.

Yet O'Boyle is not a class warrior or know-nothing populist. He recognizes that the drive and ruthlessness of people like Jack Welch have saved America from the economic stagnation of a Germany or Japan. Thorough in its reporting and finely written, At Any Cost is a plea for a kinder and gentler corporate capitalism, one mindful of its social consequences. O'Boyle does not have all the answers, but he raises important questions. --Barry Mitzman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Welch, who became CEO of GE in 1981, has been upheld by many as the quintessential corporate chieftain, a reputation he gained by steadily increasing GE's sales, earnings and stock price. But O'Boyle argues in this scathing examination of Welch's tenure to date that GE's growth has come with a heavy price?especially to the company's employees. According to O'Boyle, an 11-year veteran of the Wall Street Journal and currently assistant managing editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Welch compares business with war: any tactic is permissible as long as it leads to higher profits. This philosophy, O'Boyle explains, was used to justify Welch's rounds of downsizing as well as his demands that all GE division managers meet quarterly financial targets or risk being fired. In such an atmosphere, the author contends, it isn't surprising that Welch's GE has been implicated in scandal and questionable business practices, such as the company's role in the price-fixing of industrial diamonds with DeBeers, the falsification of profits at one-time GE subsidiary Kidder Peabody and GE executives' involvement in defense contract fraud (known as the Dotan affair). O'Boyle describes the ruthless way GE fought whistle-blowers who exposed, among other things, GE's repeated violations of Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules in its nuclear plants. Ultimately, O'Boyle believes that GE and Welch will be footnotes compared to visionary companies such as Motorola, Intel and Microsoft. Pictures not seen by PW. 75,000 first printing.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Robert F. Jakubowicz on April 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
When GE's massive downsizing took place in Pittsfield, MA, I was a frustrrated local official trying to find out what was going on. GE officials furnished little information. Eventually it was thought the GE must have done it to simply stay competitive in the new global economy. Thomas O'Boyle furnishes the answer. The layoffs and plant closings were Jack Welch's idea of a corporate revolution. He was at the cutting edge of a major business philosophy which discarded post-WW II corporate paternalism in favor of downsizing chic. Layoffs and plant closings, formerly the last options of businesses in trouble, became fashionable fiist options in the pursuit of higher profits. Welch, according to O'Boyle, created a work place of purposeful job insecurity. The profit outcome mattered more than people. GE managers had to hit a home run to be number one in profits or they were out. This quest to be number one, wrote O'Boyle, was a major reason for GE, as one of the Pentagon's 100 largest defense contractors, to become the leading corporate criminal in cheating the government to show larger profits. GE could have remained in my city and stayed competitive in comsumer electronic products, but the profits would not have been high enough for Welch's quest to be number one. My city is a long way from recovering from the economic blow of losing about 9, 000 GE jobs. I take serious issue with such revewiers as NY Times, Roger Lowenstein that O;Boyle is wrong and that , "America has reaped a huge dividend (from the layoffs and plant closings): the added goods and services that GE's former workers contribute in other lines of work" Mr. Lwenstein should come to my city to see how wrong he is.Read more ›
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56 of 68 people found the following review helpful By B. King on December 2, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The public perception of Jack Welch's tenure at General Electric has been that he focused business effort on his company's core competencies, and thus rewarded the long term shareholder with great financial returns. Tom O'Boyle peers behind the curtain to reveal the darker side of Wizard Welch and his disastrous tenure at one of America's great industrial treasures. Yes, Welch increased GE's stock value; but Welch did it with a draconian management style that failed to pay all of the bills along the way. It is easy to look rich when you don't pay your bills.
O'Boyle identifies some of the unpaid bills, including:
1) The human cost of GE's massive layoffs througout the 1980's. Welch embraced and greatly popularized the "layoff" approach to business: lay off bodies, save money, show more profit. But for every dollar the company profited, others lost. Much of the cost of the layoffs fell on individuals, families and communities that saw jobs at US-based GE operations vanish. This caused untold hardship to both families and governments, which had to rebuild shattered lives and communities. Not all survived, literally.
2) Welch took a rich and deep GE culture of research and development into technological fields, and utterly gutted it. GE's R&D abilities formerly covered a spectrum from steam turbines to appliances to jet engines to railway locomotives. Under Welch, GE's R&D arm became so weak and atrophied that the company's product lines lost the once commanding technological lead they formerly enjoyed. The company's future is betrayed. (Not satisfied with merely gutting GE's R&D, Welch purchased RCA and stripped its assets as well. Only NBC television remains in the GE fold as a major, former-RCA asset.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mingulay29 on September 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is still highly relevant. What sets it apart is the depth of research, the writing, and the courage of the author to stand up against the prevailing ideology of the time. Since then Enron and the continuing financial crash has surely taught us that something has been going badly wrong in America and in Britain and it started around 1981 when Welch got his hands on the GE empire. Much of how we view the author's work will depend on how we view the predominant trend of the last three decades - the theology of the bottom line, meeting the quarterly forecasts, downsizing, outsourcing, etc. I try to take a nuanced view, having seen what went before this period, having personally witnessed the power of the unions and the historical inevitability of the Welch era. But the fact that it was inevitable does not mean it was right. There has to be some compromise between labor, management and shareholders that we haven't reached yet.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Is the most profitable and valuable US company spiritually dead? That seems to be Thomas O'Boyle's thesis in "At Any Cost." His riveting book is the first that I have read which chronicles the dark side of Jack Welch's restructuring of the General Electric Company. In an introductory note, O'Boyle expresses regret that Welch and other executives "were unwilling to be interviewed" or to respond to his serious efforts to solicit their comments to issues and concerns raised in his book. His note is to explain the extremely negative views of Welch and GE that O'Boyle gleaned from mountains of court and government records and from interviews with restructuring and down-sizing loosers. Predictably, corporate and business reviews dismiss the book as "muckraking." It is also predictable, however, that this book will have an impact on the eventual replacement of Welch and re-restructuring of GE.
Although O'Boyle closes his book speaking of Welch and GE in the past tense, I believe that his objective is to help. If O'Boyle and Welch haven't, I urge these Irish-Catholic gentlemen to read "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism" by Michael Novak, a leading Catholic theologian. I am not a student of such matters, but Novak's and O'Boyle's books arrived on my bedstand almost simultaneously as result of absolutely unrelated activities. The possibility that this confluence of books was ordained prompts me to share my observations.
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