Book Review- Jack: Straight from the Gut

Are you looking for quick management lessons from one of the best American companies? this book might be the shortest MBA dose for you.

A thorough review of a giant corporate; General Electric. Probably, the most concise summary of their success is what their CEO, Jack Welch, summarized “we built great people, who then built great products and services… GE isn’t made up of bricks and buildings. It’s nothing more than the flesh and blood of the people who make it come alive. It’s made up of people who live in the same communities, whose children go to the same schools, as the critics. They have the same hopes and dreams, the same hurts and pains”.

9780446690683_p0_v1_s1200x630Having experiance as a mid-level manager in an international company, this book, Jack: Straight from the Gut, helped me to understand part of the heat at a corporate level and how the big decisions are taken. I wish if I can read such a detailed review for my ex-employer.

Most of the topics and strategies that were discussed can be easily fit in business management textbooks. They represent worthless guidelines that should be taught to newly hired CEOs and beyond. I was surprised to see how factors such as trust can play a big role in complex negotiations related to alliances and acquisitions.

My only concern is that the book is very big and tells the story from the most GE advocate’s point of view; Jack Welch. The book interestingly tells us about Jack’s early years and his efforts to build the new GE philosophy. Equally important, the book provides a realistic story that shows Jack’s ups and downs. Having said that, I still prefer to read from different sources and authors so I can develop a balanced idea.

Apart from getting great insights about GE company and Jack’ life, I was disappointed with the limited role of females executive and leaders in GE especially in the first part of the book. Hopefully, more businesswomen are part of leading the company now.

If anyone would like to take a shortcut and not reading the whole book, I believe Section V is the best part of the book. Personally, I was shocked by the way Jack selected his replacement. A process that lasted for 7 years with lots of politics as well as wise decisions.

Chapter 24 is a great summary of the key strategies and ideas that helped GE to be the company that we know today. These strategies are:

  • Integrity: working to get everything straight and honest; never had two agendas… There was only one way; the straight way.
  • The corporation and the community: only healthy enterprise can improve and enrich the lives of people and their communities.
  • Setting a tone: Welch did not wanted to be a picture in the annual report. He wanted to be someone whom everyone in GE knew.
  • Maximizing an organization’s intellect: taking everyone’s best ideas and transferring them to others.
  • People first, strategy second: getting the right people in the right jobs is a lot more important than developing strategy.
  • Informality: creating an informal atmosphere without bureaucracy. Informality isn’t about first name, unassigned parking spaces or casual clothing. It’s much deeper. It’s about making everybody counts and everybody knows they count.
  • Self-confidence: the true test for self-confidence is the courage to be open, to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.
  • Passion: if there is one characteristic all winners share, it’s that they care more than anyone else.
  • Stretch: reaching for more that what you thought possible.
  • Celebration: business has to be fun; celebrate even the smallest victories.
  • Aligning rewards with measurements: always make sure that you are measuring and rewarding the specific behavior that you want.
  • Differentiation develops great organizations: continuously remove the bottom 10% of your vitality curve; i.e. those who have the lowest performance among your team.
  • Owning the people: look after your people’s development, rewards and development.
  • Appraisals all the time: always let everyone knows where they stood.
  • Culture counts: setting the culture straight on day one.
  • Strategy: business success is less a functional of grandiose predictions than it is a result of being able to respond rapidly to real changes as they occur. That’s why strategy has to be dynamic and anticipatory.
  • Competitors: never underestimate the other guy.
  • The field: headquarters don’t make anything or sell anything. Field dose.
  • Markets vs. mind-sets: always look at the same businesses from different share perspectives.
  • Initiatives vs. tactics: initiatives live forever. They create fundamental change in a company. They build on one another. On the other hand, short-term tactical moves are needed to revitalize and energize a function of company. Understanding the difference between the fundamental and the quick fix helps an organization stay focused.
  • The communicator: deliver the right message and communicate the key information to everyone.
  • Employee surveys: use employee surveys to get their feedback on everything. Knowing and confronting what was on the minds of your employee is a key part of your success.
  • Upgrading a function: when you have a function that is not as strong as it should be, get the highly energized leaders in place; ideas will flow like water downhill to the rest of the company.
  • The advertising manager: managing the company’s image and reputation is a key. Image mattered.
  • Managing loose, managing tight: this was a pure gut decision for Welch.
  • Chart maker: Welch used charts to reduce the complexity of problems.
  • Investor relations: be careful for who you put into investor relations.
  • Wallowing: get people together, often spontaneously, to wrestle through a complex issue. This is part of breaking down the concept of hierarchy.
  • Your back room is somebody else’s front room: understand where your real value added is and put your best people and resources behind it. Outsource the other parts of your business.
  • Speed: strive for fast response and actions as much as you can.
  • Forget the zeros: break the big projects out and focusing on them as separate, smaller business in large entities. The smaller ventures got high visibility and create heroes.

My favorite takeaways from the book are:

  • “There are no finite answers to many questions”.
  • “Bosses usually have answers in mind when they hand out questions. They are just looking for confirmation. To set myself apart from the crowd, I thought I had to think bigger than the question posed. I wanted to provide not only the answer, but an unexpected fresh perspective”.
  • “Too many managers considered their positions as the reward for service to the company, a career capstone rather than a fresh opportunity”.
  • “Business has to be fun. For too many people, it’s just a job”.
  • “You own the business. You are renting the people”.

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