Posted by: drewdice | June 25, 2009

Jack in the Box (or our educational system?)

As most of you know, I am a huge proponent of education: for children, young adults and adults, through all stages of our lives, learning is an ongoing part of who we are and who we become.

As I enter the second year of my Executive MBA program with excitement and anticipation of what I can learn next, I have to hit the pause button at the recent announcement that Jack Welch is starting an MBA program: Jack Welch MBA

As I see it, there are multiple issues here:

Jack Welch, in many circles, is revered as a pioneer in business, leading General Electric to highly profitable years, immense stockholder returns and setting himself apart as a leader to be emulated. While it is undeniable that G.E. did have very profitable years and did yield great profits for shareholders, I don’t think enough attention is given to the “how” behind Neutron Jack’s results. Countless divisions and jobs were cut; and while job cuts are a brutal fact of business, there are many ways to improve profitability that don’t include forced attrition in a firm (arbitrarily firing the “bottom” 10 or 15% of the firm’s population). G.E. purchased much of the business that created the gains in profitability, and until recently, they stopped innovating and creating, and focused on acquisition as the method for rapid growth. Following Welch’s departure, G.E. has recently learned some of the costs associated with this style: employees who operate out of fear, as opposed to passion and desire, a huge lag in getting current and competitive in innovation (have you noticed how much G.E. is now advertising about how innovative and progressive they are?)

Welch has recently retracted his position on shareholder value being the most important thing for a business, and I believe he is taking this new stance in the face of the aftermath from businesses failing because they created incentives for people to focus on improving stock price (primarily) as opposed to creating more sustainability, profitability and value for an organization, employees, communities and shareholders. Does that strike anyone else as odd?

Jack has certainly made significant positive contributions to leadership schools of thought, and there are valuable lessons to be learned from his methods and track record. That being said, I am more than a little uncomfortable with him now pioneering an MBA program, and potentially shaping thousands of business minds about the way to shape and build economic pillars of our communities.

I do agree that we need major shifts and improvements in the value delivered in our education, but this isn’t it.

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Responses

  1. Drew,

    While I think there are some universal truths to succeeding in business (and life for that matter), there are many different paths people and companies can take to become successful. I like your analysis of Welch’s time at G.E. and its objectivity, but I do not think we can evaluate his MBA program without knowing the specifics of the curriculum and if in fact he is proposing his own experiences and ideas as dogma.

  2. The real question is this.

    What influence will Jack have on the program? It seems to me this is a Chancellor University’s MBA that received a huge grant from Jack to put his name on the program. Maybe Jack’s ego still needs to be stroked.

    • Tom,

      As we know from class, regardless of whether we are dealing with “good Jack”, or “bad Jack”, one thing is for sure: there are few individuals with bigger egos…..

  3. “What’s in a name?” Here’s where brand is measured…will young business minds prefer this program based on the Jack Welch name or will they go with more proven, legacy programs given measurable track record? You raise an interesting point about teaching using Welch concepts/tactics–should there be additional controls/criteria in place as new programs are developed? It will be interesting to follow how this plays out.

  4. I agree, Heather. Jack certainly has brand appeal, and one question is whether he will have that same brand appeal with a younger audience who probably would not have responded well to Welch’s forced attrition mentality.

    I’m curious to see how this program is marketed, packaged, sold and delivered.

  5. This issue is less about the name (Wharton, Sellinger, Bloomberg, or Welch) and more about the accreditation, core curriculum, content, and application to profession or individual goals.

    • Renee,

      I agree that much of the issue is about the points you mention. In addition to those things, however, part of my issue (and maybe it is just mine) is that Welch has been revered as a thought leader, innovator, and business icon, when retropspectively, we are now seeing the many negative points his philosophy, style and teachings have had.

      While I believe he will not personally create and deliver the core curriculum and content, nor will he be solely responsible for the application to personal or professional goals, I am concerned about gettting more of the same from Jack (by the way, I realize I am focusing solely on the negative perspective, and not any of the positive impacts he has had…)


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