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The Corporate Divorce of the Century

General Electric News Conference
From 2001: GE Chairman and C.E.O. Jack Welch and GE Chairman-Elect Jeffrey Immelt prepare to announce to the media that Immelt will succeed Welch upon his retirement. Photo: Chris Hondros/Newsmakers
William D. Cohan
November 16, 2022

In June 1995, Fortune reported that an “envelope exists” with the names of “two or three” GE executives who would be “capable of immediately taking over” for Jack Welch if he were to become incapacitated. Succession was in the air. But Jack had an intense aversion to the process by which Reg Jones, his predecessor, had selected him. He didn’t mind creating a competition obviously—much of his reputation was built upon the succession of growing earnings every quarter—but what he would not do was bring the finalists to GE’s Fairfield headquarters and have them duke it out in front of him for a year or two. He had hated that Jones did that to him and the other finalists, and he wasn’t going to repeat Jones’s mistake. “It was torture,” Jack told me. “I didn’t like it.”