At the recent IQPC Six Sigma Summit Six Sigma conference, the auditorium was packed to standing room only with executives and practitioners there to hear a question and answer session with Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Many delegates I spoke with said they registered for the conference just for the chance to hear Mr. Welch speak. Was the message that Jack brought worth all this fuss? In a word, yes. Showing that retirement from GE has only strengthened his belief in Six Sigma’s potential, Jack stressed that the customer-focused methodology demands maximum dedication.  He credits his own “maniacal” devotion for most of the Six Sigma success GE experienced on his watch. During the course of the morning session, Jack shared thoughts ranging from how Six Sigma will manifest itself at GE in the future to Six Sigma as a leadership development program to how to get employees off the proverbial fence.

  • In describing GE today, led by current CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Jack said that the “new frontier” is not necessarily a new methodology that will replace Six Sigma, but a new way of operating business. “By 2007,” he noted, “half of GE’s players will have been Black Belts. Once you get to that level, it’s in the blood.”
  • On Six Sigma as a quality methodology, Jack said: “It’s a leadership tool as much as a quality program…it develops better thinking. When it’s wasted on less than desirable people, it’s a waste. You’re missing something if you’re not creating leaders.”
  • “Business is about winning, and winning is about fielding the best team,” Jack said when he addressed a question about how to get “disbelievers” involved and supporting the program. It was clear that Jack thinks building the best team involves training the entire organization with a consistent problem solving methodology.
  • When asked if it is possible to get all “employees off the fence” and into the Six Sigma game, Jack answered, “Sure you can. You need to show them what’s in it for them. It could show up in job security for people in unions. People’s first reaction to Six Sigma is that it’s a cost reduction program…. No, it’s about improving our responsiveness to customers. Six Sigma is about being better at serving customers. If [our actions] don’t show up in the customer’s faces, [we haven’t] done a lot for job security.”
  • When one delegate asked how much of GE’s market capitalization was due in whole or in part to the Six Sigma program that Jack so vigorously promoted, his answer was candid and to the point: “Who knows? Operating margin went from 10 to 16 percent. We had massive improvements in op margin. I really didn’t care and don’t know.”

Jack Welch is one of the most recognizable and most lauded business figures in the world. His passion for Six Sigma and the business transformations he led are legend. For those of us in the quality profession, Jack’s achievements at GE represent the best of what is possible. His natural business instincts combined with the wisdom gained from 20 years at the helm of one of the largest companies in the world make Mr. Welch a compelling proponent of Six Sigma. So when Jack speaks, we listen.

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