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Jack Welch was born in Peabody, Massachusetts, the only child of Grace (Andrews), a homemaker, and John Francis Welch Sr., a Boston & Maine Railroad conductor. Welch was Irish American and Catholic. His paternal and maternal grandparents were both Irish.
Throughout his early life in middle school and high school, Welch found work in the summers as a golf caddie, newspaper delivery boy, shoe salesman, and drill press operator. Welch attended Salem High School, where he participated in baseball, football, and captained the hockey team and became second lieutenant right after graduating
Late in his senior year, Welch was accepted to University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studied chemical engineering. Welch worked in chemical engineering at Sunoco and PPG Industries during his college summers. In his sophomore year, he became a member of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. Welch graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering, turning down offers from several companies in order to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He graduated from the University of Illinois, in 1960, with a master's and a PhD in chemical engineering.
Welch had four children with his first wife, Carolyn. They divorced amicably in 1987 after 28 years of marriage. His second wife, Jane Beasley, was a former mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer. She married Welch in April 1989, and they divorced in 2003. While Welch had crafted a prenuptial agreement, Beasley insisted on a ten-year time limit to its applicability, and thus she was able to leave the marriage reportedly with around $180 million.
Welch's third wife, Suzy Wetlaufer (née Spring), co-authored his 2005 book Winning as Suzy Welch. She served briefly as the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review. Welch's wife at the time, Jane Beasley, found out about an affair between Wetlaufer and Welch. Beasley informed the Review and Wetlaufer was forced to resign in early 2002 after admitting to the affair with Welch while preparing an interview with him for the magazine. They married on April 24, 2004.
Starting in January 2012, Welch and Suzy Welch wrote a biweekly column for Reuters and Fortune, which they both left on October 9, 2012, after an article critical of Welch and his GE career was published by Fortune.
Following Welch's retirement from General Electric, he became an adviser to private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and to the chief executive of IAC, Barry Diller. In addition to his consulting and advisory roles, Welch had been active on the public speaking circuit and co-wrote a popular column for BusinessWeek with his wife, Suzy, for four years until November 2009. The column was syndicated by The New York Times.
In September 2004, the Central Intelligence Agency published a parody of Welch applying his management skills while serving as imagined Deputy Director of Intelligence.
In 2005, he published Winning, a book about management co-written with Suzy Welch, which reached No. 1 on The Wall Street Journal bestseller list, and appeared on New York Times Best Seller list.
On January 25, 2006, Welch gave his name to Sacred Heart University's College of Business, which was known as the "John F. Welch College of Business" until 2016, when it began using the name the "Jack Welch College of Business". Since September 2006, Welch had been teaching a class at the MIT Sloan School of Management to a hand-picked group of 30 MBA students with a demonstrated career interest in leadership.
In December 2016, Welch joined a business forum assembled by then president-elect Donald Trump to provide strategic and policy advice on economic issues.
In 2009, Welch founded the Jack Welch Management Institute (JWMI), a program at Chancellor University that offered an online executive Master of Business Administration. The institute was acquired by Strayer University in 2011. Welch had been very actively involved with the curriculum, faculty and students since the beginning of the institution. JWMI's MBA program was recently named the number one most influential education brand on Linkedin and one of the top business schools to watch in 2016. The program has also been named one of the Top 25 Online MBA Programs four years in a row (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) by The Princeton Review. Its goal is not to make money, but to build over time focusing on the quality of the program and increasing the number of students enrolled year after year.
At GE, Welch became known for his teaching and growing leaders. He had taught at MIT Sloan School of Management and taught seminars to CEOs all over the globe. "More than 35 CEOs at today's top companies [were] trained under Jack Welch". JWMI students had direct access to Welch and he hosted quarterly video conferences with his students.
It is known that along with his video conferences, Welch created many video responses to messages on bulletin boards and answered individual emails. His investment in the university was also reflected in his interest in the institute's Net Promoter score (NPS). He administered surveys on satisfaction regularly and scrutinized the results to find scores that needed improvement. In an interview with Wired Academic, Welch explained the overall status of his MBA program, stating that the persistence rate of students continuing on to a second year had grown from 90% to 95%, and that JWMI turns away very few students in the admissions process. He also said that he would like better leadership training for MBA students.