Legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch has died at 84. The peripatetic executive built the company into a global powerhouse with an international collection of assets from aviation to oil and gas, consumer electronics, financial services, real estate and media and entertainment.
The Massachusetts native’s death was announced by his wife, Suzy Welch. The cause of death was renal failure.
Welch, a chemical engineer, joined GE in 1960 and worked his way up. He served as chairman and CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001, presiding over a massive increase in the company’s stock valuation that made him famous. He was one of the first CEOs to reward his executives with stock options. More recently the company has struggled and Welch’s successors began to take apart the giant conglomerate that he built.
But under his leadership, GE became the world’s most valuable company of its era after Microsoft. He earned the nicknames “manager of the century,” and “Neutron Jack,” due to his reputation for cutting thousands of jobs and divesting or shutting down units that were top in their industry.
Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who worked at NBC for two decades under Welch, called him an extraordinary executive.
“Jack set the path. He saw the whole world. He was above the whole world, was always traveling around the world,” he told CNBC. “So when we presented acquisitions to Jack he would look, but then compare it with what was happening at aircraft engines or GE capital. He saw what people were doing.”
“What he created at GE became the way companies now operate, this whole global idea,” Zaslav said.
GE bought and sold many businesses under Welch’s leadership, including RCA, which owned NBC.
NBC Universal was created in 2004 – after Welch had retired – when GE merged NBC with French conglom Vivendi’s film and television subsidiary, Vivendi Universal Entertainment. GE owned 80% of the combined company. In 2011, Comcast acquired 51% control, buying a chunk of shares from GE after GE bought out the French owner. Comcast acquire the rest of of NBCUniversal in 2013 and GE exited the entertainment business.
The colorful Welch stepped down from GE in 2001. He continued to make headlines, in part to due a widely-covered, bitter divorce from his wife Jane that the two settled in 2003.
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