COMMENT: Editorial - Next CEO of GE in no-win situation

Everyone agrees (Big Pitch, PRWeek, Nov. 15) that the retirement of Jack Welch was flawlessly introduced. First the announcement was well in advance: 18 months, we are told. Second, his successor will come from inside GE. There is something comforting about a company that grooms its own. While every change of CEO is a leap in the dark as far as Wall Street is concerned, if a company promotes from within, it’s like there’s a night light on.

Everyone agrees (Big Pitch, PRWeek, Nov. 15) that the retirement of Jack Welch was flawlessly introduced. First the announcement was well in advance: 18 months, we are told. Second, his successor will come from inside GE. There is something comforting about a company that grooms its own. While every change of CEO is a leap in the dark as far as Wall Street is concerned, if a company promotes from within, it’s like there’s a night light on.

Everyone agrees (Big Pitch, PRWeek, Nov. 15) that the retirement of

Jack Welch was flawlessly introduced. First the announcement was well in

advance: 18 months, we are told. Second, his successor will come from

inside GE. There is something comforting about a company that grooms its

own. While every change of CEO is a leap in the dark as far as Wall

Street is concerned, if a company promotes from within, it’s like

there’s a night light on.



But the cult of the CEO is a dangerous one. The next Jack Welch will not

come off a conveyor belt. There will be no next Jack Welch. And that

could be a far bigger problem than the respondents to last week’s Big

Pitch suggest.



Of course, Welch will make a fuss when he handpicks a successor from

among the suits.



He will tell us that this person is brilliant, accomplished and most

important, well-schooled in the workings of GE and the Welch management

philosophy.



Even if GE does exactly as our proponents suggested last week -

appointing the successor quickly; making sure they are seen with Jack at

every important business function; keeping the internal outreach and

intra-company communications short and sweet; being very visible to key

media and analyst influencers - that person will not be working at the

House that Jack Built.



The cult of the CEO, and the slavish adherence to it by the media,

analysts and the public, is a problem for the PR industry. As the

PRWeek/Burson Marsteller CEO survey shows (PRWeek, Nov. 15), more and

more CEOs recognize the importance of PR, and believe that reputation

management affects the stock price, none more so than companies of the

size and stature of GE.



That’s good news.



But while CEOs at companies with the very largest reputation (more than

dollars 5 billion) play down the importance of their own public image to

the company’s overall reputation, Jack Welch is such an exceptional

figure in the history of US business that his successor will always pale

by comparison.



The minute there’s a problem, people will look back anxiously and

compare the two - even when results are good.



Those are going to be two big boots to fill. And the corporate

communications head is going to have a tough job telling people that

they’re indeed filled.



Web election? What web election?



How alarmed should George W. Bush be that his web site ranked

second-to-last in PRWeek’s presidential campaign-site rating? About as

concerned as he is about blanking on the leader of India - that is, not

very. As one e-politics expert argues in this week’s feature story

(p20), the Internet will be as important to the 2000 election as the

phonograph was to the 1960 election.



None of the web sites sway public opinion, serving mainly as

opportunities to rehash biographies, mobilize volunteers and - of course

- generate money. While smartly designed sites can help underdogs like

John McCain and Bill Bradley, the fact remains that the Internet has

provided more headaches than headlines so far.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.