"Being Mean Is So Last Millennium"


Business Week Article

OK, so here's the palette cleanser after my Bob Nardelli rant. I like to keep a positive piece at the top of blog for good blog karma. It's a companion piece about another guy who was passed over for the top GE job, Jim McNerney, who ended up as CEO at 3M and now Boeing (beating out current Ford CEO Alan Mulally).

While Nardelli is further portrayed as a bitter jerk:

A devastated Nardelli pressed Welch to know why he didn't get the job. Didn't he have the best numbers? What did Immelt have on him? Why wasn't he the guy? The bitterness was palpable, say insiders.

McNerney is portrayed as a nice guy, with genuine respect for people.

McNerney immediately swallowed his disappointment and told Welch that he had picked a great guy in Jeffrey R. Immelt.

While McNerney nurtured an environment of respect at his companies, Nardelli's tenure was marked by callousness and heavy-handedness.

“Being mean is so last millennium,” says advertising guru Linda Kaplan Thaler, who co-wrote The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness.

More on McNerney:

McNerney spent his first six months at Boeing talking to employees to better understand the businesses. He didn't yell or publicly humiliate anyone.

When I was at GM, our new NUMMI-trained plant manager came in and spent months walking the floor and talking to everyone. I asked him why he didn't jump to action earlier, telling us what to do. He said it was important to first understand the problem and to listen people, so you can earn their trust. Even if he was right, people wouldn't believe or respect him if he didn't listen first.

Back to McNerney:

He called for teamwork and heaped credit on shunned CEO contender Alan Mulally. A modern-day Dale Carnegie, he even remembers low-level staffers' names. “Jim's problems have been as tough, or tougher, than the ones that Bob had to face,” says a former GE peer. “But he has tried to solve them in a much more pleasant way. The guy is loved over there at Boeing–and that's got to make a difference.”

It all sounds good, and I hope it's true, that we've found a leader to admire … but read the comments at the bottom of the Business Week story (or click here). I guess you can find a few “boss haters” anywhere (particularly in regards to his time at 3M).

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. As much as we like to pick on Jack Welch, this shows some of the contradictions in the GE culture. The company actually does a few good things. If you pass the “Turkey test,” GE’s Crotonville training center, and other programs are known for nuturing leaders in a way that, for white collars, is reminiscent of Toyota’s respect for people. That’s how folks like Nardelli and McNerney, and even Harry Stonecipher, who preceeded McNerney at Boeing, got their reputations.
    I’m also reminded of the Fast Company article about GE Durham, http://www.fastcompany.com/online/28/ge.html
    I think it’s a pretty shining, if exceptional, example of sound manufacturing leadership.


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