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A guru gives back

Just as he did as longtime chief executive and chairman of General Electric, Jack Welch pulls no punches as an instructor of MBA students at MIT. So watch out, turkeys.

Published October 20, 2006


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - "Don't fall in love with your workers," a business instructor tells a student who's launching a small startup company. "If you've got 16 employees, at least two are turkeys."

It's hardly the only piece of blunt, politically incorrect advice the charismatic teacher dishes out in a windowless basement classroom filled with 30 MBA candidates, many of them hoping to eventually become CEOs. Wearing a blue blazer and checked shirt, he stands in front of a lecture table, rather than behind, through most of the 90-minute session, sharing his management ideas with a preacher's fervor.

If it sounds like the instructor is copping an I've-seen-it-all attitude, it's because he has reason to. He's Jack Welch.

While Welch's 20-year run as chairman and CEO at General Electric Co. generated criticism that he was too quick to cut jobs - leading to the not-so-flattering nickname "Neutron Jack" - he also won legions of followers who regard him as a management guru with unparalleled leadership abilities and business acumen. Then there's his record of increasing GE's market value by more than $400-billion before he retired in 2001 as head of the industrial, financial services and media conglomerate.

Last month, the 70-year-old began his first classroom job, teaching an eight-session weekly course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, across the Charles River from his townhouse in Boston's ritzy Beacon Hill section.

The course is titled "Conversations with Jack Welch," and it's aptly named.

Although Welch eagerly solicited students' ideas during one of his recent sessions, the management ideas he discussed throughout the class were his alone.

Pairing up a young employee with a single mentor "is one of the stupidest ideas around in management," the instructor said, because the mentor "may be a turkey."

When negotiating a deal, tell your rival what you want the moment you sit down at the negotiating table.

"It gets the deal done faster," he said. "You totally disarm them by putting your cards out on the table. You take all the cleverness out of the game."

And don't bother trying to improve the performance of underachievers in the bottom 10 percent of the company's work force, he said. Tell them they're not suited to their jobs, and give them a way out.

When Sloan School of Management Dean Richard Schmalensee approached Welch last spring about exposing students to real-world management lessons, Welch quickly agreed.

He receives no compensation from MIT to teach, but sees the class as a way to gain insight from tomorrow's business leaders.

He's noncommittal about whether he may continue teaching at MIT after his current assignment.

"I don't know about that, but this is a kick for now," he said.

[Last modified October 19, 2006, 23:28:48]

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