David Gelles describes unbroken capitalism’s exemplary big companies in the 20th century that treated employees fairly and focused on long-term growth — such as G.E. after the New Deal and the enormous unionization it enabled, economic fairness increased significantly along with prosperity in the United States, as 'corporations, workers and the government enjoyed a relatively harmonious equilibrium,' and 'worker pay grew in tandem with worker productivity'...In the 1980s, as American culture and politics were suddenly celebrating money and robber-baronism with a new go-go giddiness, 'Welch was tapping into profound changes in the zeitgeist,' Gelles writes...While Gelles’s basic takes are all correct, they’re also relentlessly basic, in the new, pejorative sense: unsurprising, unoriginal, conventional wisdom conventionally expressed, passable in thousand-word pieces of journalism but not at book length...Gelles’s portrait of Welch is derived from previously published biographies, which he credits...After 200 pages of a lot of ham-handed critique, Gelles devotes most of his last 30 to a fairly ham-handed celebration of the chief executives of Unilever and Paypal and the other 'lonely voices in the business world' — in particular the founder of the billionaire-convening World Economic Forum in Davos — who 'call for a more holistic approach to capitalism'...Gelles doesn’t begin to suggest how or if any of those reforms might come to pass, because nowhere has he closely examined the entrenched and powerful political foundations of the system his book is about.
New York Times reporter Gelles delivers a cutting takedown of former General Electric CEO Jack Welch...As chairman and CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001, Gelles writes, Welch reshaped corporate capitalism with his focus on growth at the expense of anything else. Gelles depicts his subject as an aggressive, argumentative kid who grew up to be a validation-seeking, temperamental adult...His two decades at the helm of the electronics giant were characterized, Gelles asserts, by a 'relentless pursuit of financial glory,' during which he fired thousands of workers, cobbled together unrelated businesses that could turn a quick buck, and turned GE into a company that 'paid little regard to its employees and was addicted to short-term profits'...Full of color and vitriol, this is an incisive, eye-popping history.
Gelles, the 'Corner Office' columnist for the New York Times, focuses on Jack Welch (1935-2020), CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001, whom he sees as 'the personification of American, alpha-male capitalism, a pin-striped conquistador with the spoils to prove it'...Notoriously 'impatient, impulsive, and crass' as well as ambitious and energetic, when he took over as CEO, he lost no time inaugurating his vision—and that of economist Milton Friedman—of 'maximizing profits at the expense of all else'...Gelles capably traces GE’s downfall from being the most valuable company in the world in 1993 to its begging for a bailout in 2008, and he exposes the many business titans who followed Welch’s strategies...He sees hope, however, in the 'handful of idealistic capitalists'—leading businesses such as Unilever, PayPal, Patagonia, and Seventh Generation—who consider their companies’ impacts on employees, the environment, and society...A vigorous argument for a more humane capitalism.