Welch fires back
Neutron Jack defends his turf
By Betsy Morris, Fortune senior writer

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Jack Welch was about to head to a television studio for what he calls "the best job I've ever had" - on-air analyst for the Boston Red Sox pre-game cable show - when we caught up with him. As usual, he had no shortage of opinions.

On the power of size.

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Welch: still confident
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It's great to be big. Being big doesn't mean you have to be slow. It doesn't mean you have to have tons of layers. It doesn't mean you can't have highly entrepreneurial people.

You can get fat. Monopolies are often guilty of not moving. If GE (Charts) had stayed pat and we didn't grow in financial services and we stayed No. 1 in light bulbs, we'd have been in deep yogurt.

But that doesn't mean you don't want to be big and strong.

On leadership.

You want to be No. 1. There's nothing wrong with that. You don't want to be a loser. Nos. 3, 4, and 5 don't have the same flexibility. You don't have the same level of resources. You can't do R&D at the same level.

I agree being No. 1 in a static environment is not by itself sufficient. No. 4 might have smarter management that uses money more wisely. What you do with the resources that come from being a leader - that's what determines your future.

On keeping lean.

I was all for de-layering and flattening organizations. Today I'd flatten them even more. Some companies are still too hierarchical. Some are right out of Bethlehem Steel.

On exploiting niches.

It's not inconsistent at all with wanting to be No. 1, No. 2. In a big company you'd better be out exploring new niches. Today's niches, tomorrow's big things. Those aren't inconsistent.

On customers.

When has there ever been a divergence between shareholders and customers? No one is out saying, "Let's screw this customer today, and if we do, our share price might go up 20 cents." They're just not doing it.

On looking outward.

GE in the 1990s was all about looking outward. We traveled to other companies constantly to bring back best practices. It is one of the great ways to multiply the intellect in your organization.

On ranking employees.

That was very controversial. Weed out the weakest. The Red Sox and the Mets are playing tonight. Guess what? They're not putting on the field guys in the minors.

It's all about fielding the best team. It's been portrayed as a cruel system. It isn't. The cruel system is the one that doesn't tell anybody where they stand.

The new rules

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REPORTER ASSOCIATE Patricia Neering contributed to this article.  Top of page