- 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: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,465,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit Paperback – September 7, 1999
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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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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. Shockingly, NBC spends more each year to broadcast basketball games than GE spends on R&D. It is so sad, when you think that the only man-made object ever to leave the solar system, Voyager spacecraft, carries a camera that bears the RCA logo.)
3) GE's continuing failure to clean up the PCB's and radioactivity it has left behind in its numerous manufacturing operations; while at the same time making a business unit out of cleaning up PCB's and other pollution for other customers. The unpaid bills also do not include the people who remain afflicted with industrial illnesses from their exposure to chemicals in the GE workplaces over the years.
These are just a few of the topics. The book is profound, and will shock the unitiated. O'Boyle is a historian of American industrial history. He takes the reader on a trip through time, from the laboratories of Edison; to the early workshops of Ford; to the mills of Carnegie; to Tom Watson's IBM; to Rickover's nuclear navy; and so much more.
O'Boyle spent eleven years with the Wall Street Journal, and he knows how to dig out the story and tell it in the best journalistic style. Also, as the notes reveal, O'Boyle has met and talked with many of the luminaries and leaders of American and European industry of this era. O'Boyle has captured the essence of an American tragedy, which was GE's abandonment of its research-oriented, manufacturing legacy to satisfy the ego of one man.
Jack Welch started at GE selling plastics, and he has become his own product. It seems that Jack Welch, who came into control of one of the nation's greatest industrial enterprises, really wanted only to run a credit card company as his life's ambition. Today he has his wish, but the nation has lost.