Within days of Jack Welch’s death on March 1, the emails and phone calls began pouring into the Jack Welch Management Institute. The heartfelt tributes, often highly personal and detailing the impact the legendary ex-Chairman and CEO of General Electric had on people, came in the hundreds, largely from students and alumni who were drawn to his teachings on leadership and management.
“Jack was more than a businessman, more than a teacher, a mentor or an adviser,” wrote Danette Hilton, a manager at Intel who earned her MBA from JWMI two years ago. “My story is not far from many of the others that have come to JWMI and for a brief time and allowed Jack to touch their lives, careers and advise them. A great mentor has moved from a physical presence to that of eternal life.”
“You taught me what a leader was and how to be an effective one!,” added Jose Gamez, a marketing brand manager in healthcare who earned his MBA in 2014 from JWMI. Gamez recalled that when he first met Welch at the end of 2014, “you knew my name and called out some of my accomplishments during your talk to students and faculty, I was flabbergasted. Alas, it was another lesson you taught me to praise your people in public! Your spirit will always continue to live inside of me Jack.”
‘HIS LEGACY IS OURS TO CARRY ON AND I KNEW WE WILL ALL CARRY ON AND MAKE HIM PROUD’
“His legacy is ours to carry on, and I know we will all carry on and make him proud,” wrote Kelly Abcarian, a general manager at Nielsen who graduated from JWMI in 2018. In her email to the leadership of Welch’s school, Abcarian went on to say she knew they were helping Welch to build a legacy. “I know how proud Jack was of his school and that was because he knew he had put the best players on the field, all of you.”
It is not typical for students and alumni to be so effusive in their praise nor is it entirely likely that many other MBAs have been profoundly touched by a single person who they largely met online, in videos and live-streamed lectures. But the online MBA program at JWMI is unique in teaching the fundamentals of management that made Welch a massive success. In the 20 years that he was CEO of General Electric, he and his team built the company’s market capitalization by more than $450 billion. In the process, Welch established himself as the most admired business leader in the world, dubbed the “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine.
The school is his legacy. From a standing part in the winter of 2012, the school has since grown to a current enrollment of some 2,000 students. The alumni base, moreover, is quickly approaching 5,000 graduates. The online MBA is not only one of the largest in the world by enrollment, but it is also the only highly ranked investor-owned program not administrated by a traditional university. In Poets&Quants ranking of online MBAs, the JWMI program is solidly in the top 25 at a rank of 23. But the school ranked first in several student satisfaction metrics, including students’ assessment of the “overall quality of professors,” “the accessibility of the faculty,” and “satisfaction with the opportunities to create connections with faculty.” JWMI also ranked second in alumni’s ability to immediately apply what they learn to their jobs and third in an evaluation of coaching and career support from the school.
‘WILL YOU LET ME RUN THE SCHOOL FOR YOU?’ ASKED WELCH
For Welch, the institute and its curriculum were not a mere hobby or side venture. After the first term, Welch approached Robert Silberman, then CEO of Strayer Education Inc., which has a 60% interest in JWMI with the remaining 40% now held by the Welch estate, with a surprising request. “Jack came to me and said, ‘I’ve got one more favor to ask you,'” recalls Silberman, now executive chair of Strayer Education. “‘Will you let me run the school for you?’ I said, ‘Is this an intelligence test because Jack it’s a tiny little thing.’
“And he said, ‘I really want to do it.’ So I said, ‘Great!’ We assigned some academic and operational leadership along with a governing board and for the last nine years, he did run it almost full-time. The amount of time he spent on that school was absolutely phenomenal. What that meant was he was able to handpick and hand mentor all the faculty, all the administrative staff and oversee the development of the curriculum.
“Even up until the end,” adds Silberman, “you didn’t teach at the Jack Welch Management Institute until you were interviewed by Jack. He would bring the faculty down to Palm Beach twice a year. They would have workshops and he would address them. It was just like what he would do at Crotonville (GE’s learning center). It was his thoughts about how to run a business and be a leader encapsulated in academic content. Over time, we put together thousands of hours of video with him and all his friends who worked for him and who are now CEOs of big companies. They teach all of the methodologies that he had come up with at GE. This is how you run an organization. This is how you think about leadership. This is how you think about decision making.”
‘JACK WOULD GET REPORTS THREE TIMES A DAY. HE WAS LIKE A DOG WITH A BONE’
Welch was always obsessive about metrics and he applied many of them, particularly measurements of student satisfaction, to the school. He was especially interested in net promoter scores, a metric that measures the percentage of customers who would recommend a product or service to their friends and relatives.
“Jack would get reports three times a day, literally morning, mid-day, and evening. He loved the details. It didn’t matter to him how many zeros were after it. He was like a dog with a bone. He was fantastic about not just knowing the net promoter score but doing those scores per faculty member, per class, and then winnowing out the faculty who had poor net promoter scores. The school routinely had the highest net promoter scores of any of our schools or programs. That was a big, big part of how he measured the success of the program.”