BOSTON — Jack Welch, who transformed General Electric into a highly profitable multinational conglomerate, has died. He was 84. Welch became one of the nation’s most well-known and highly regarded corporate leaders during his two decades as GE’s chairman and chief executive, from 1981 to 2001. He personified the so-called “cult of the CEO” during the late-1990s boom, when GE’s soaring stock price made it the most valuable company in the world. Welch’s results-driven management approach and hands-on style were credited with helping GE turn a financial corner, although some of the success came at the expense of thousands of employees who lost their jobs in Welch’s relentless efforts to cut costs and rid GE of unprofitable businesses.
Born Nov. 19, 1935, as the only child of an Irish working-class family in Salem, Mass., Welch graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He later obtained master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois, finishing in 1960.
Welch joined GE that year as a junior engineer in Pittsfield, Mass.
He rose through the ranks, and built GE’s plastics business into one of the company’s fastest growing business units. He became a senior vice president in 1977, and vice chairman in 1979. In 1995, Welch suffered chest pains and underwent heart bypass surgery.
He is survived by his third wife, Suzy Welch, and four children from his first marriage.