Pontifications: Two books examine GE’s fall from grace
Lights Out: Pride, Illusion, and the Fall of General Electric
By Thomas Gryta and Ted Mann
Mariner Books, $17.99, 361 pages
The man who broke capitalism, how Jack Welch gutted the heart and crushed the sole of corporate America, and how to undo his legacy
By David Gelles
Simon & Schuster, $28.00, 264 pages
August 1, 2022, © Leeham News: Two recent books on GE and its most prominent CEO, Jack Welch, offer a different approach and fascinating insight.
A, Curfew, is a detailed chronicle of the Welch era and those that followed. This book goes into much more detail than Gelles’s, which is more of a biography of Welch than a company history – although obviously there’s a cross-pollination of the two.
Gelles, reporter for the New York Times, enters a discussion of Boeing and the people influenced by Welch who came to lead Boeing, including Jim McNerney and David Calhoun. But don’t expect Gelles’ book to dive deep into how Welch’s tutelage of McNerney and Calhoun affected Boeing. The discussion is superficial. This is, after all, a Welch-focused book.
Gelles paints a damning picture of how those executives who left GE to become CEOs of other companies largely destroyed shareholder value (the mantra of GE) in their new positions. Ironically, Gelles, for all his criticism of McNerney, points out that when it comes to shareholder value, McNerney has increased it at Boeing unlike the other Welchies.
Curfew, on the other hand, barely mentions Boeing, and McNerney is mentioned only in passing. Calhoun is only mentioned once. But GE’s story is much more detailed in Curfew than in Gelles’s book. This is to be expected when one realizes that the authors are economic journalists for the The Wall Street Journal, while the employer of Gelles is aimed at a general public.
Gelles’ story is more personal about Welch, going back to his childhood and giving us insight into what shaped his personality. He makes a good case for how boards of directors have not only sought out GE executives to lead their companies, but other companies have emulated GE’s business model. Curfew is more of a business story.
Gelles writes about GE’s culture and how it permeated other companies, including a cursory examination of the impact on Boeing. Curfew doesn’t specifically make that link, especially since Boeing is figuratively a footnote. But reading either or both books, GE’s culture and business practices are very familiar with what emerged at Boeing when GE’s practices were first introduced by Harry Stonecipher, also a GE alumnus, starting in 1997 and followed by McNerney and even non-Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of GE. It’s not a compliment.
A sharper look at GE’s culture comes from an older book, Lessons from the Titans, co-authored by a director of Melius Research, Scott Davis. Davis recounts how GE tried to have him fired for writing a negative research note while employed by Morgan Stanley. It’s something that Boeing tried in 2007 or 2008 with a new journalist to International flight before reporting to work because Boeing was upset with its earlier report of 787 development difficulties. The cultural parallels between GE and Boeing recounted in all three books are stark.
Curfew and the Welch book are worth reading. Curfew is a bit painful. Gelles makes you want more. The choice is yours.
My book, Air Wars, the global fight between Airbus and Boeing, tells the story of 33 years of competition between the two rivals and the impact on the two of John Leahy during those 33 years. The book is a quasi-biography of Leahy and a sequel of sorts to the 1982 book, sports game, which at the time was considered the definitive story of the competition between Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed and Airbus, which at the time was only 12 years old.
Air Wars is rated 4.5 out of five by readers on Amazon and 4.3 on Goodreads. The book has also been ranked among the top 10 reads in 2021, including by the prestigious Royal Aeronautical Society.
Royal Aeronautical Society
Named in the Top 10 Aerospace Books for Christmas Picks list, 2021
Puget Sound Business Journal
(Seattle area.) No. 1 on the Aerospace Books Christmas List for 2021.
#1 on his list of the best new aerospace e-books to read in 2022.
Chris Sloan, The Air Chive
“A worthy successor to ‘The Sporty Game,'” John Newhouse’s 1982 book, considered at the time the definitive book on the competition between Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and the fledgling Airbus.
Jim Sheehan, Aviation Industry Consultant
There is so much information about models and OEMs that it is sure to become required reading for anyone wishing to understand the last fifty years or so of commercial aviation.
I loved all the quotes and stories.
Dan Catchpole, aviation writer
Air Wars is a tour de force behind the curtain of global competition from Boeing and Airbus and, in part, a biography of Airbus sales chief John Leahy, the man who forced Boeing’s hand to re-engine The 737. Longtime aerospace analyst and journalist Scott Hamilton takes readers through the twists and turns of the decades-long battle between the two companies.
Dan Reed, aviation writer
Using John Leahy’s long and monumental career as a way to tell readers about the 51-year battle between Airbus and Boeing is both an interesting and inspired choice by the author.
Air Wars is available in paperback and e-book form on Amazon and in paperback from Barnes & Noble.