NEW YORK -- Jack Welch, the former General Electric chairman, cemented the American conglomerate's image of excellence over his 20 years at the helm and was widely admired in the corporate world for his leadership. He died Sunday at 84.
Business leaders from around the world once came to GE's management development facility in Crotonville north of New York City to learn from Welch, who could fairly be considered among the preeminent corporate titans of the 20th century.
He was loved by investors and feared by employees, presiding over a roughly 30-fold rise in GE's market capitalization while earning the moniker "Neutron Jack" for his merciless job cuts.
Welch found many fans among Asian business leaders. Bunsei Kure, former chairman and CEO of Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics, moved to GE Capital Japan from the Industrial Bank of Japan at the age of 43 out of admiration for GE's management under Welch.
When Kure was angling to become president of Nissan Motor supplier Calsonic Kansei, he told then-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn in his final interview that he planned to use "GE-style management." He got the job.
Kure says he learned from GE how to coordinate the many parts of a big company: human resources, accounting, business planning, sales, production, development and more. "As a leader, you have to bring the violin players, trumpet players and the like into harmony and create beautiful music with the whole orchestra," he said.
Thailand's richest man, Dhanin Chearavanont of the Charoen Pokphand Group, once said at a Nikkei event that in training the next generation of leaders, "I want to cultivate talent who can see ahead of their time like Jack Welch."
Dhanin, who has ceded the positions of group chairman and CEO to his sons, seeks to move the group away from an owner-oriented leadership model in favor of a more decentralized structure.
During the early 1980s, Welch famously demanded that GE's business units be No. 1 or 2 in their industry or be sold. Canon Chairman and CEO Fujio Mitarai, who knew Welch personally, took the mantra one step further and aimed to transform Canon into a company that leads the world in everything it does.
After Welch passed the torch to Jeff Immelt in September 2001, GE fell on hard times from which it has yet to fully emerge.
The change in leadership came the same month as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in which hijacked planes struck targets including the World Trade Center -- an event that severely reduced demand for GE's mainstay airplane engines.
Immelt was forced to reverse some of GE's expansion under Welch, selling off businesses that his predecessor had carefully cultivated, including broadcasting and plastics.
The conglomerate hit a nadir with the 2008 global financial crisis. GE Capital was a key profit driver under Welch, but earnings at the risky financial business plummeted with the crisis, leaving deep scars that weigh on GE today.
After stepping down from GE, Welch became a business consultant and frequent television pundit. But his public appearances had dropped off markedly in recent years as the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple took over as a driving force behind the American economy.