Jack Welch, GE CEO for Two Decades, Dies at 84

Jack Welch - Getty

The business leader served as the head of the former NBC parent company.

Jack Welch, who spent two decades as the chairman and CEO of General Electric, including while it was the parent company of NBC, died Sunday in New York of renal failure, his wife, Suzy, announced. He was 84.

According to CNBC, Welch died at home with his family and beloved dogs nearby. 

Welch ran GE from 1981-2001, presiding over impressive market growth as he cut the company's workforce and bought and sold numerous businesses. 

It was Welch who spearheaded GE’s acquisition of RCA, which then owned NBC. The $6 billion deal, announced in 1985, was at the time the biggest acquisition ever outside of the oil industry.

Welch divested many of the RCA assets, including its storied RCA Records division, to focus on the revenue provided by the core broadcast network. Under GE’s ownership, NBC grew its revenue and profit to record numbers.

His decision to put GE executive Bob Wright in charge of NBC raised eyebrows, but its financial growth silenced naysayers. Welch’s handpicked successor, Jeff Immelt, later sold off two of Welch’s biggest acquisitions, GE Capital and NBCUniversal, to focus the conglomerate on its core industrial assets.

Given his penchant for acquisitions, Welch earned the reputation as one of the big dealmakers of the age. He was often seen as a controversial manager, though, given there were admirers and critics. His business success earned Welch such nicknames as "manager of the century" but also "Neutron Jack" for cutting jobs to boost profits.

“More than anything else — leader, business icon, management genius — more than those things, although they are all true too — Jack was a life force made of love,” Suzy Welch said in a statement obtained by CNBC. “Pure, bright, undiminishable love. His irrepressible passion for people, all people, his brilliant curiosity about every-single-thing-on-earth, his gargantuan generosity of spirit toward friends and strangers alike — they added up to a man who was superhuman yet completely human at once.

"He changed the world by touching people deeply and authentically, helping them see and reach dreams they couldn’t even imagine for themselves. And somehow, crazily somehow, he also managed to be the greatest husband and stepfather who ever lived, giving our family twenty amazing years of adventure, happiness and joy. Our hearts, so much larger and fuller having known and loved him, are broken.” 

Born John Francis Welch Jr. in Peabody, Massachusetts, Welch was the the son of a Boston and Maine railroad conductor.

Welch is also known for inspiring other business executives. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who used to work at NBC when GE owned it, once said he learned three key things from Welch about being a leader: work harder than everyone else around you; read everything your employees ask you to review; and don’t be afraid to tell your boss what’s wrong with a business plan.

Welch is also credited with such management mantra lines as "mistakes can often be as good as a teacher as success"; "the team with the best players wins"; and "face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be."

A number of well-known business figures took to social media Monday to remember Welch, including President Donald Trump, who wrote, "Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of GE, a business legend, has died. There was no corporate leader like 'neutron' Jack. He was my friend and supporter. We made wonderful deals together. He will never be forgotten. My warmest sympathies to his wonderful wife & family!"

Survivors also include four children from his first marriage.