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An audience with Jack Welch


Jack Welch
Welch: "The team with the best players wins."
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(CNN) -- Global Office asked three British senior executives to put their management questions to legendary former General Electric CEO Jack Welch.

Mike Clark (CEO, Appliansys): We design and market server appliances around the world. We face a number of competitors in the U.S. which raise venture capital, and apparently they can raise more funding, more easily than we can here in the UK. Can you give us any advice on how we should present ourselves to the venture capital community in the U.S.?

Jack Welch: Yeah Mike, you've got to get out there and tell your story. There's tons of guys from California to Boston who are searching for the next good idea and it's your job to bring your package over there with passion and intensity and get these guys to invest in your idea because they don't care about any geographical boundaries. They are out for the next big idea.

MC: My biggest bugbear, Jack, and I guess this goes for a lot of people, is prioritization. I've got a limited number of people. I'm not sure this was a problem for you at GE. We don't have a lot of money to throw at the problem. I'm balancing my own time between looking after sales and customers or looking after my own people so that they can spend more time looking after sales and customers or keeping my board and investors off my back so that I can spend more time looking to raise more money so I can get more people and more sales. So every waking hour of the day I'm thinking about how I should juggle my time. What was your personal recipe for managing your time most effectively amongst all your stakeholders?

JW: Mike, without question, it's all about people. Fielding the best team. If you get the best people on your team, you've got plenty of time to do the things you like to do and can add more value to. The last thing you want to get caught up with is doing things that are form over substance; going to meetings, getting tied up in a lot of PowerPoint slides. What you want to do is get a helluva team in place. Get the best player because whether it's soccer or whether it's anything else the team with the best players wins. So focus your energy on getting the best and getting rid of the weakest.

MC: If this week I have to ignore sales and customers or ignore my people or my board of directors -- which is it and how do you decide?

JW: Well, I don't know your relationship Mike with your board but I would not throw them over the side for this discussion. I mean under any circumstances. You've got to keep your boss happy but meanwhile I think if you've got the right people they'll take care of the customers.

MC: How would you deal with the classic dilemma that faces early stage companies looking for funding? To what extent would you balance maintaining short-term business performance versus spending your time out raising the next round of funding?

JW: Look Mike, the real reason you have your job -- the only reason you have your job -- is to allocate resources and to make sure you eat in the short-term but prepare yourself to breathe long-term. There's no other point in you having the job because anybody can squeeze the thing short-term, and anybody can let it all ride for the long-term. So you have to make priority decisions; do this and cut that and don't say maybe to lots of little things. Make hard calls; a big pile here and nothing there.

MC: Thanks for that advice Jack. How should spend all the money once I've made it?

JW: I'd say have a helluva good time. When I had a bypass a friend asked me what I was thinking about when I was going through the bypass. I said, I damn wished I'd spent more.

Richard Downs (CEO, Iglu.com): Iglu, as an online specialist retailer, often gets invited by other online travel players to partner with them to provide a white label service. So far we've declined those partnerships in the belief that it's better to build and enhance the Iglu brand rather than succumb to the short-term benefits of larger volume. Do you believe that is the right strategic way to go?

JW: I don't know enough to say whether you should sell yourself down the river and become a private label player but I would fight like hell to keep my brand if I were you. I mean, brand is everything long-term. If you can survive now in the short-term you might have to make a practical trade off and do some volume with some bullies in order to get some business for yourself. But I'd be reluctant as hell to do it without fighting hard to keep my brand.

RD: Iglu is one of the fastest growing companies in the UK and as such we receive informal offers from much larger companies relatively frequently. What advice would you have on what is the best time to instigate an exit process? Iglu is currently running at 30 million turnover and 120 people. We'd very much welcome your views on what you think the exit strategy should be?

JW: You know your long-range projections. More importantly, you know in your gut and in your fingertips how real they are and if you've got a great future ahead of you. Why would you want to get out for a quick buck or a quick pound? I mean in the end, only you know and this isn't about numbers; this is about your instincts and if you've got a run ahead of you, I'd hang in there.

Carol Savage, MD, Flexecutive: Do you believe that being a role model for working incredibly hard and having a reputation for working incredibly hard would make the take-up of flexible working within your corporation an impossibility?

JW: Absolutely, but this is not a gender issue anymore. There are men who take care of ailing parents and there are single fathers. What this is all about though -- and I've just written about this in a new book -- this is all about you and your boss. Don't look at these phony company policies on flexi time and other stuff. They are meaningless. Either you make your boss more competitive, you make your boss smarter or you make your boss win. If you do that he'll accommodate or she'll accommodate any schedule you want. But it's a very personal thing. This is not that corporate baloney because in the end if you make your boss succeed, if you're not there with face time then you're going to get nailed.


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