I’m a business guy but I’m not one of those suit wearing, MBA-toting, “Excuse me while I check my portfolio” kind of business guys. I’m a creative person in a creative industry so you probably won’t hear me saying things like, “core competencies”, “critical path” or “EBITDA”.
You can probably see why I knew Jack Welch without really knowing Jack Welch.
I kinda knew that he was famous for getting rid of the bottom 10%.
I kinda knew that he had the nickname “Neutron Jack”.
I kinda knew that he had a long and successful tenure as CEO of GE.
I kinda knew that 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy worshipped the ground he walked on.
Yesterday, I interviewed Jack in front of 2,000 people at the Art of Management.
Well, I certainly know him now.
He’s kind. He’s candid. He’s open. He’s passionate. He’s fun. He’s brilliant.
And whether you like it or not, he’s Jack.
My experience started with a pre-interview phone call that was brief and to the point.
“Ask me anything you want. There are no inappropriate questions. I’ve heard it all – I’m an asshole, I walked out on my second wife, I’m a bully. Ask me what you want. We can talk politics. We can talk management. We can talk about my personal life. I don’t care. In business, people are the most important thing and everything else is bullshit.”
While others in his position have teams of handlers, communications people and complex algorithms to suggest strategic questions and pre-scripted answers, Fortune’s “Manager of the Century” apparently wanted to wing it.
I had no agenda, other than a desire to make it interesting and informative for those who assembled to hear him. In the end, I think I had more fun than anyone.
He playfully scolded me for referring to work as a “grind” (I referred to it as a “bitch slap” on stage). He called out academics for over-analysis. He shot down mentorship. He admitted when he didn’t understand the issues around the NHL lockout. He said tuitions are immoral. He gave examples and case studies filled with both successes and failures. He even gave the crowd some nice tweetable bits:
“Everyone is a mentor. Everyone knows something you don’t.”
“Find a better way, every day.”
“The Director of HR is just as important as the CFO.”
He was larger than life. And his wisdom filled the room.
Most of us would claim we never judge people without meeting them but the truth is, we do. We judge their decisions, we evaluate their behaviour and we say we know what makes them tick without ever meeting them in person. That’s wrong and I realized I was just as guilty as you are.
What I loved most about yesterday wasn’t the laughs, the insights, or the content.
It was discovering that when it came to the man and his values, I was wrong.