Table of Contents, Exceptional Leaders Resources Page Previous Section Next Section

Chapter 3: Create an Authentic Learning Organization


Our behavior is driven by a fundamental core belief: the desire, and the ability, of an organization to continuously learn from any source, anywhere; and to rapidly convert this learning into action is its ultimate competitive advantage.

—JACK WELCH, former CEO of General Electric

This boundaryless learning culture killed any view that assumed the "GE way" was the only way or even the best way. The operative assumption today is that someone, somewhere, has a better idea; and the operative compulsion is to find out who has that better idea, learn it, and put it into action—fast.


It was the publishing event of the year. When word spread in July of 2000 that the leadership memoirs of GE's Jack Welch were about to go on the auction block, every publisher wanted in. However, the multimillion-dollar ante was too much for most publishing houses. After several days of bidding, the price tag reached a stratospheric $7 million, and only two publishers were left standing. For a business book, this was an unheard-of event.

According to one insider, the GE chairman was embarrassed about the mountain of money that was about to be shoveled his way (despite the fact that he was planning to donate the money to charity). As a result, Welch put an end to the auction by selecting Time Warner, who agreed to pay $7.1 million for the right to publish his story. Had Welch not stopped the bidding, the price tag would probably have increased by several additional millions.

At that time, no U.S. president—traditionally the highest-paid autobiographers—had ever received a book advance of more than $7 million. (President Ronald Reagan had received $8 million, but this was for a two-book deal—his memoirs and a book of speeches). Why were the reflections of this business leader now more highly valued than the reminiscences of any other business or political leader in history?

Like the stock market, the Welch payday had reached record—even euphoric—levels. That same year, the greatest bull market in U.S. history ended. The following year, Welch stepped down as GE's CEO. Still, neither event prevented Welch's book from becoming one of the best-selling business books in publishing history. What made Jack Welch's leadership methods the most emulated in history? Why are his strategies and tactics studied by students, managers, and other chief executives the world over?

Table of Contents, Exceptional Leaders Resources Page Previous Section Next Section