March 3, 2020
John Francis “Jack” Welch Jr., 84, the former CEO and chairman of General Electric Co., has died. He earned a Ph.D. in 1960 in chemical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Welch went to work as a chemical engineer at GE immediately after completing his doctorate. He started in its plastics division and quickly gained prominence in the company, becoming a vice president in 1972 and vice chairman and executive officer in 1979. He was named chairman and CEO in 1981 at the age of 45. He remained at the helm for the next 20 years.
In 1983, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his “leadership in developing engineered plastics and for increasing national recognition of the importance of technology and innovation.”
Welch oversaw two decades of prosperity at GE and was lauded for his aggressive approach that slashed tens of thousands of jobs, bought and sold a variety of businesses and moved the company into financial services and consulting. According to CNBC, the company’s market value rose from $12 billion to $410 billion during his tenure.
After retiring from GE in 2001, Welch worked as a consultant and speaker, and also taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.
Welch and fellow students at Illinois were great supporters of their former adviser, James Westwater, and together helped establish the James W. Westwater Professorship in Chemical Engineering in 1986.
Welch is survived by four children, Katherine Welch, John Welch III, Anne Welch and Mark Welch; two former wives, Carolyn Carson and Jane Beasley Welch; and his third wife, the former Suzy Wetlaufer, whom he married in 2004.