General Electric's John F. Welch Jr., one of America's Most renowned chief executives and an individual many other Fortune 1000 executives have worked hard to emulate, can boast an impressive run. A 40-year veteran of the Fairfield, Conn.-based company, Welch took over the top spot in 1981, only the eighth chairman and CEO in the storied company's 122-year history.
And he's not done yet. The hard-driving, aggressive Welch has one more vision to master: the Internet. In January 1999, he decided GE was not about to be "amazoned" by guerrilla competitors capitalizing on GE's long-standing brick-and-mortar legacy.
His solution? The destroy-your-business exercise that forced every company business unit to benchmark competitors, develop a Web-based business plan to erode its own customer base and then change its own business operations to respond to the threat.
That resulted in big financial dividends for GE. And, Welch says, GE aims to cut more than $12 billion in operating costs during the next 18 months via the Web, a figure that's roughly 10 percent of GE's total annual revenue.
Savings by using the Web are coming from classic overhead cost areas, such as travel, payroll and advertising. But GE is also planning to erase billions in other costs by placing orders for goods,and selling more of its own,online. The company uses a B2B online marketplace called Global Exchange Services to link to its suppliers worldwide. That saved GE some $235 million through the first eight months of this year, and executives say that figure should rise to half a billion next year.
Taming the Internet may be Welch's greatest achievement yet.
Jack Welch: Age 64
Years at company: 40
Education: Bachelor's, Master's and Ph.D., chemical engineering, University of Illinois