Control your own destiny or somebody else will. —Jack Welch
Who are your personal heroes or people you admire the most and wish to emulate in terms of success? Whether it’s tycoons John Gokongwei Jr., Lucio C. Tan or revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, reading about the exploits and lives of achievers in biographies will inspire you as well as give valuable lessons.
At a recent luncheon, I was seated beside entrepreneur JR Palomo of Be/Loved boutique photography and his parents, Robert Palomo and Evelyn “Toots” Palomo, who own 40 outlets of Great Image Studio, which has been in SM malls for the past 30 years. When I asked who they most admire as a business icon or role model, former Ayala Group investment banker Robert Palomo replied: “Jack Welch.”
The 79-year-old retired businessman John Francis “Jack” Welch Jr. is a chemical engineer who became one of the most legendary business leaders in the history of capitalism. He served as chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 and 2001, changing GE and leading it towards explosive growth as one of the world’s most valuable companies. Under his leadership, GE’s value rose 4,000 percent! Fortune magazine in 1999 hailed him as “Manager of the Century.”
When I asked for five reasons why he admires Jack Welch, Palomo enumerated the following, and I am adding my personal comments to each:
1. Jack Welch looks at the bottom line. I agree. No matter how colorful or impressive a chief executive officer can be, one shouldn’t forget to take care of the bottom line or the basic profitability of an enterprise.
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2. He was very demanding. I believe this is one trait of many outstanding bosses and even some of our best teachers in school.
3. GE wasn’t doing well and he turned it around. Many of the world’s most unforgettable success stories are those of turning around moribund or mediocre enterprises.
4. He was an innovator. It’s almost a cliché, this topic of innovation, but it is essential for survival and to be continuously competitive. Most people take this need for granted as long as they are already doing well. How many firms are investing a lot in research and development here in the Philippines? What about our government? On this topic, Jack Welch said, “You have just got to constantly focus on innovation. And more competitors. You’ve got to constantly produce more for less through intellectual capital. Shun the incremental, and look for the quantum leap.”
5. Jack Welch was a motivator. I think this is an important trait or asset of any leader — that of being able to energize, motivate, challenge, inspire and encourage others with our vision so that they can aspire to do great work.
Here are some other leadership and success lessons from Jack Welch that I like the most:
1. Simple is often better. Whether in our personal affairs, in private business, non-governmental organizations or most especially in government, why do we tend to complicate things with a maze of red tape, a gridlock of bureaucracies and too-complex analyses or procedures? Welch said, “Simple messages travel faster, simpler designs reach the market faster and the elimination of clutter allows faster decision making.“
2. Let people know your vision. Jack Welch said, “Leaders inspire people with clear visions of how things can be done better.”
3. Have the guts to face reality. We should take away our illusions or blinders, set aside the unrealistic or sugar-coated words of sycophants around us in order to objectively see and assess reality, then act accordingly. Many leaders tend to be naturally egoistical and refuse to face adverse realities, especially criticism. Great leaders humbly face reality and act courageously.
4. Look for good ideas from everywhere. New ideas are the lifeblood not only of businesses, but also any other endeavor or industry. In fact, they are the lifeblood of progress in human civilization. Let us always be open to and search for new ideas from everywhere, from everyone. As Welch said, “The operative assumption today is that someone, somewhere, has a better idea; and the operative compulsion is to find out who has that better idea, learn it, and put it into action — fast.“
5. Look at change as opportunity. I agree with this, but change is an opportunity not only for business, but also for everyone in any vocation or endeavor. Perhaps the dinosaurs of the past became extinct because they refused to adapt to changes and resisted it. Let us not fear change but embrace it and use it as an opportunity to keep on changing for the better!
6. Cultivate future leaders. This is a good reminder to all of us, especially those who started small and have become used to doing too much instead of delegating. This is one weakness of many bosses, especially those who cannot trust others or who tend to micromanage things. Jack Welch believes in cultivating leaders with the four Es of leadership: Energy, Energize, Edge, and Execution.
7. Get rid of bureaucracy. Even a small business or organization sometimes tends to create unnecessary bureaucratic ennui. Welch believes that the way to maximize people’s potential is “to turn them loose, and get the management layers off their backs, the bureaucratic shackles off their feet and the functional barriers out of their way.”
8. Create a “learning culture.” It is not only bosses who need to learn constantly for self-improvement, but also the individuals in our office, organization or business so that the whole team will improve continuously. Welch said, “The desire, and the ability, of an organization to continuously learn from any source, anywhere — and to rapidly convert this learning into action — is its ultimate competitive advantage.”
9. Stretch goals and targets. I learned early on that loftier goals or positive stress can energize us personally or as a team to excel beyond our own expectations. If we’re going to set goals, we might as well set higher targets, not only to energize, but also to motivate and excite ourselves. Welch said, “We have found that by reaching for what appears to be the impossible, we often actually do the impossible; and even when we don’t quite make it, we inevitably wind up doing much better than we would have done.“
10. Excel in quality. In business, we can compete best not only in terms of price or marketing prowess, but also by becoming better in quality ultimately. Welch said, “We want to change the competitive landscape by being not just better than our competitors, but by taking quality to a whole new level. We want to make our quality so special, so valuable to our customers, so important to their success, that our products become the only real value choice.”
11. Be speedy. This is a good reminder to all of us, without exception, because I think many of us tend to be too relaxed and easygoing in doing things. We need a real sense of urgency, it is true: Time is money. Jack Welch said it best: “Speed is everything. It is the indispensable ingredient of competitiveness.”
12. Enjoy what you are doing. I think it was the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius who advised that we should enjoy what we are doing — whatever our vocation is — so we don’t feel like we’re working for the rest of our lives. Indeed, this attitude of having fun in what we do is very important for all of us in every field. It’s not just about the money; have fun and do so much better!
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