The Sad Story of Jack Welch in Retirement: Opinion

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Look out, readers. With Election Day approaching, silly season has begun.

In response to much-needed positive developments in the U.S. labor market -- the unemployment rate finally dropped below 8% -- many people got strangely angry, including the former CEO of one of the nation's most prominent companies, General Electric ( GE).

"Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change the numbers," wrote Jack Welch on Twitter after the news broke. The comment was partly a reference to President Obama's poor performance in the recent presidential debate.

It's no secret the elderly have trouble navigating the Internet, but I suspect Welch's accusation that the President of the United States is manipulating employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics must have come straight from the gut, to borrow a phrase from Neutron Jack's bestselling, add-to-the-pile book.

I wonder, though, if his tweet was as well thought out as Welch's mastermind plan to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times ( NYT).

It's an ironic accusation coming from Welch, who knows a thing or two about employment. After all, he achieved success at GE by slashing more than 100,000 jobs at the company in the 1980s to boost profits.

Then the irony gets even thicker when one considers that Welch is now widely remembered as Corporate America's most skillful manipulator of quarterly earnings results and manager of expectations on Wall Street -- a skill that is particularly handy for CEOs overly focused on their stock price.

Welch takes that skill quite seriously, as evidenced by another outburst he made as a retiree back in early 2008 when he publicly admonished his successor, GE CEO Jeff Immelt, for disappointing Wall Street with a quarterly earnings report.

When asked in an interview on CNBC whether more disappointments were on the way, Welch said, on national television, "I'd be shocked beyond belief, and I'd get a gun out and shoot him if he doesn't make what he promised now."

Like the rest of us, Welch was unaware at the time that the mother of all financial crises was unfolding, and his company would eventually be caught neck-deep in the quagmire as a result of Welch's aggressive push into the finance business.

I guess there's a final irony here: Welch is leveling such an incendiary accusation at Obama, the very president who came to the rescue of his company, and by extension his legacy, with the continuation of the federal bailout of Wall Street and the subsequent federal stimulus spending and tax-cut package that certainly played a role in bringing GE's still-stagnant stock price out of the root cellar.

The point of this is not to make any political comment. I certainly think Obama's handling of the economy is worthy of criticism, and it comes as no surprise to anyone that partisan media propagandists and their useful-idiot followers would try to discredit a rare bit of good economic news by lashing out at their opposition with absurd accusations of corruption.

However, to hear such noise coming from a prominent business leader like Welch seems to be a sad comment on the woeful state of discourse in America from the highest echelons of society.

But there's another point to all this, which is that the shine has long been removed from the once-stellar reputations of corporate captains from the 1980s and 1990s, such as Welch.

He looks more like a quack now than a leader, and when you combine that with the terrible performance of his company after his departure it becomes clear that dumb luck probably had as much to do with Welch's business success as anything that he wrote in his book.

In retrospect, Welch is probably one of the most overrated -- and overpaid -- CEOs in U.S. corporate history. Despite all the claims from industry that exorbitant compensation packages for CEOs are necessary to preserve talent, the truth is that in many cases, people who could do the job far better than these clowns are probably a dime a dozen.

That brings us back to Welch, whose unseemly divorce proceedings in 2001 revealed his "stealth" compensation. Unbeknownst to them, shareholders were paying Welch a retirement stipend of $734,000 per month. His other retirement benefits, valued at $2 million per year, included a New York apartment with daily flower deliveries and wine, along with unlimited use of the corporate jet.

Ah, if we could only go back to the good ol' days.

At the time of publication the author had a position in GE.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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