Jack Welch



My biggest mistake was explosive—literally. In 1963, three years into my GE career, I was a chemical engineer, eager and ambitious and trying like hell to build a plastics business in an electrical company. In the process, my pilot plant blew up. Yes, blew up—roof collapsed, windows shattered, clouds of smoke, the works. I thank God no one was hurt, to this day. But I was certain my career was over, especially when my boss in Pittsfield suddenly didn’t know me, and I got a call to go see the big boss in New York. His name was Charlie Reed, and I didn’t know him at all. What I did know was that I was terrified—i was sure I was going to be yelled at, humiliated and then unceremoni­ously fired. After all, it was my plant and my fault.

But Charlie Reed taught me a huge lesson about leadership and life that day. He was calm. He was kind. He was thoughtful. He spent several hours with me, employing the Socratic method of questionin­g, to help me understand why the explosion occurred and what I could have—and should have—done differentl­y. And then, after it was all over, he gave me a second chance.

I learned to never kick someone when they’re down. Everyone makes mistakes, and some are real whoppers. But that makes them whopping opportunit­ies, too—for growth. In the years after my encounter with Charlie, I followed his example with my own employees, and saw it help more people for the better. I also learned that the time to “kick” people—and by kick I mean “challenge”—is when they’re on the way up, to remind them that when you’re growing, make sure your head isn’t swelling, too!

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