There was a time when there was no higher compliment for a CEO than to say he (or she) was a leader on par with General Electric’s Jack Welch.
Now? Um, maybe not so much.
Mr. Welch, by now rather famously, used Twitter Friday to question the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly report, which showed the unemployment rate dropping below 8 per cent for the first time in the Obama administration. This was conveniently, he felt, just after the President’s disastrous debate performance.
“Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers,” Mr. Welch tweeted Friday morning.
As is wont to be, the Twitter reaction was harsh. From David Frum: “BTW Isn’t Jack Welch about the last person on earth who [should] talk about organizations manipulating numbers to impress markets?”
(Here’s a pretty representative compilation of tweets)
Indeed, the Twitter spat has provided fodder for a reevaluation of Mr. Welch’s career, which shines less brightly today than when he was named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine in 1999.
As the Tweets noted, GE consistently beat Wall Street’s earnings expectations, often by a penny. And the Securities and Exchange Commission took notice, ultimately charging the company with accounting fraud and extracting a $50-million settlement. (Although the SEC noted the pattern of earnings surprises began in 1995, under Welch, it limited its formal accusations to accounting choices made in 2002 and 2003, under Mr. Welch’s successor.)
In retirement, his most notable, or notorious, accomplishment, prior to Friday, was having an affair with then-Harvard Business Review editor Suzy Wetlaufer while still married to his second wife. They divorced, and he married Ms. Wetlaufer in an episode sordid enough for wags to remark his autobiography Straight From the Gut should have been retitled “Straight From the Groin.”
Friday’s Tweet, however, came from some other, mysterious place, from the conspiracy-addled political right, further afield than even the American Enterprise Institute, which posted a blog item saying the idea of political interference in the jobs numbers “needs to be smacked down immediately … That talk should be confined to crazytown.”
Mr. Welch is taking the advice, moving his opinion pieces to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. (Fortune magazine, which had been running his musings, seems to have lost his services after pointing out Tuesday that GE cut 100,000 jobs when Mr. Welch led the company.)
In a piece titled “I Was Right About That Strange Jobs Report,” he soft-pedals his charge of political manipulation of the numbers, instead focusing on whether there were methodological issues with the survey. He undermines his case for sympathy, however, by comparing the treatment he received since Friday as akin to “Soviet Russia” or “Communist China.”
Those countries imprisoned their innocent; Mr. Welch is getting the intellectual punishment, and tarnished reputation, he deserves.
READERS: What’s your take, is Welch being unfairly punished for speaking out, or is he proof business leaders shouldn’t dabble in politics? Take your shots in the comments.