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In At Any Cost, Thomas F. O'Boyle dissects the reign of General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Welch is, according to many, the archetypal CEO of the nineties and has made GE into a model company for the next century, but at what cost? While GE stock has risen 1,155 percent and net profit has grown by billions under Welch's reign, much of what the company stood for has been lost and a human cost has been paid that stretches beyond the 120,000 jobs lost. Is GE still "Bringing good things to life?"
For most of the twentieth century it was the leader in corporate R&D--under Thomas Edison GE was the first company to have a research laboratory--GE now ranks only sixteenth. A GE advertisement in 1939 proclaimed GE engineers were "creating not only more goods for more people at less cost, but also more and better jobs at higher wages." Under Welch, manufacturing, which pays higher wages, has declined radically as financial services, which generally pays less, have become central. Scandal has also become an enduring facet of GE's culture. From the huge debacle of its Kidder Peabody securities firm to NBC's rigging of GM trucks to explode on cue, Welch's fanatical pursuit of profit has led to the creation of an executive culture where the risks taken appear to be largely ethical.
The total value of GE's stock has, under Welch, has gone from the eleventh to the most valuable to the most valuable of any American corporation. The cost? Over 120,000 jobs have been lost in America, and an increasing number of those that remain are in the lower paying service sector. Environmental, ethical, and financial scandals have become shockingly common. Innovation, which once reigned supreme and is still vital to the company's future, has virtually ceased to play a role. Further, as put by a former executive, "people at GE don't go off to work every morning. They go off to war." Many business leaders use and business media cite GE as the model for the future; O'Boyle asks if it should be. The number and variety of warning signs are too great, for complaints about Welch to be dismissed as simply a case of sour grapes.
Praise for At Any Cost:"A carefully documented, deeply researched, and impassioned indictment of a man, a giant corporation, and a way of doing business at terrible cost."
"O'Boyle has made Welch the poster boy for modern capitalism and all the ills that accompany it: downsizing, deal-making, ethical violations, pollution."
--The Boston Globe
"This book makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of corporate America. . . . Thomas F. O'Boyle persuades you that GE--Jack Welch's GE--brings bad things to life. In abundance."
"O'Boyle has researched and written a monumental book that should be mandatory reading for all CEOs and anyone concerned with business ethics."
--The Philadelphia Inquirer