Mar 5, 2020 - Economy & Business

The parallels between Jack Dorsey and Jack Welch

An illustration of half jack dorsey, half jack welch.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Mike Coppola/Getty Staff, Phillip Faraone/Stringer

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is, in some strange way, the modern-day version of Jack Welch.

The big picture: Dorsey, the embattled yet sensitive founder and CEO of Twitter and Square, has almost nothing in common with Welch, the corporation man who led General Electric as it became the largest company in America. Yet Dorsey exemplifies today's West Coast leaders just as Welch helped to define the celebrity CEO of the 1980s and '90s.

  • Welch, who died on Sunday at age 84, was combative and irascible. “You can’t even say hello to Jack without it being confrontational,” said one manager in 1988. Dorsey, by contrast, is introverted and conflict averse.
  • Welch was lavishly paid — his severance agreement alone amounted to $417 million — while Twitter pays Dorsey $1.40 per year. Yet Dorsey is much richer than Welch ever was, with a net worth somewhere in the $6 billion range.
  • Welch was famously blunt and quotable; Dorsey speaks in annoyingly circuitous generalities.
  • Welch acquired his "Neutron Jack" nickname by constantly firing employees, even in good years. Dorsey acquired the #WeBackJack hashtag by creating what staffers characterize as a "caring family" and spending a lot of time listening to employees and supporting them.
  • Welch was a loyal company man, who rose up the ranks at GE to become a singleminded CEO; Dorsey left Twitter, started Square, and now runs them both simultaneously while still making time for the occasional 10-day silent vipassana meditation in Myanmar.

Welch obsessively managed GE's quarterly earnings and achieved much of his success through financial engineering, creating billions of dollars of profit from the GE Capital subsidiary that almost blew up the entire company during the financial crisis.

  • That kind of thing is very unfashionable these days, but Dorsey is learning that you're only really safe in your job so long as the share price keeps rising.
  • No one is agitating for Dorsey's ouster at Square, whose share chart has been gratifyingly up-and-to-the-right. Twitter, by contrast, is still well below the $45 per share at which it started trading after its IPO in 2013.

The bottom line: Activist hedge fund Elliott Associates wants Dorsey out as CEO of Twitter. And as Kara Swisher put it in her NYT column, "a good heart is the one thing that won’t help at all."

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