Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography
San Francisco’s current gold rush economy may have those looking for a place to live in the city up in arms but this strong economy, fueled by innovation, is something that former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and his co-author wife Suzy Welch wish the rest of the country would follow. The power couple breezed through the Bay Area this week to promote their new book, The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career. We caught up with them after their LinkedIn Discussion Series with LinkedIn Executive Editor Dan Roth, at the LinkedIn San Francisco headquarters to ask a few questions of our own.
HL: In terms of the economy, are we living in a fantasy world in San Francisco where everything is booming?
JW: You’re living in a world that may not be fantasy, where innovation really is taking place. It would be nice to transport this atmosphere everywhere. Cities and towns everywhere are trying to. They’re putting in incubators. They’re trying to copy it in some way, but they haven’t made it yet.
SW: You’re living in a wonderful place. It’s that fantastic. It’s real—but it’s not shared by everyone.
HL: What do you like most about San Francisco?
SW: The energy; the people are so inventive. We love the atmosphere of innovation. It’s a great, great city.
HL: How do you two work so well together?
SW: We have been practicing it for a long time. In 2002 we really started working together and developed a process. It’s iterative. We have a process that works great. But on top of that, we just really like each other and really love each other. It’s fun for us.
Here are some of the highlights of their talk:
DR: What is your advice to someone who can’t find a job?
SW: If they’re young and they’ve got the ability we ask them to figure out their area of destiny… Determine what you’re uniquely good at and intersect it with what you love to do. In that very beautiful piece of real estate is your area of destiny. Try to build a career around that. It’s super great to do that before you have a mid-life crises at age 45. There’s not always money at the beginning. Your area of destiny comes with a caveat.
DR: In Silicon Valley, the focus is on the gig economy, the 1099 economy. Are you telling people what to do for a job market that no longer exists?
SW: If you’re not good at computer science and you don’t find it enjoyable to code, there is no point forcing yourself into that box. You’re going to have another midlife crises at age 45 and you’re going to blow it up and go do what you want to do. Ultimately you need to work at the intersection of your strengths and passions and what gives you pleasure.
DR: What’s going on with start-ups with the delay in IPOs and companies raising so much money right now. Are we at a frothy market? Is it too frothy? Is it exactly right?
JW: No one knows. Money is free. When have we had a period of money being free for this long? You can’t get anyone to tell you what the outcome of this is going to be. Is it going to be crazy inflation? Is it going to be crashing all over the place? No one knows. Whether it’s Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke or anybody out there. They’re all winging it.
DR: Five years down the road, what do you want your [Jack Welch Management Institute] to look like?
JW: I want the brand to have risen so it gets more and more attention [so it gives] graduates prestige and job opportunities. Instead of 1,000 (students) after four years, I want it to be 5,000… I think we can teach an army of people. The average age is 38. People stay in their job and grow while they’re in the program…The whole objective is to get our students in their companies promoted. We work fulltime at it. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life by far. We’ve gone from zero to 900 MBA students in four years. We’re growing 40% a quarter. And it’s a fraction of a cost of a MBA program. An MBA program is $330,000 maybe; ours is $39,000.
On what they’ve learned on this book tour:
JW: You people out here have created a problem because the word entrepreneur has now become a profession. People come to us and we say, “What do you want to do in life?” They say, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” We say, “What’s your idea?” [They say] “Whaaaat? Idea?” They think it’s a doctor or a lawyer now, like it’s a profession. You sign up to be an entrepreneur without ideas, you’ve got a crappy life ahead of you. If you don’t have an idea, what do you got? They love that I’m not going to work for the man.
What are your thoughts on the education bubble?
JW: You’ve got a bad cycle here where kids are taking on enormous debt and don’t have the opportunity to work in the field where they can pay it off fast. There’s a bubble. There’s no question and there will be some retribution coming one of these days… Something is going to happen.
DR: Will half of the schools go away?
SW: The center cannot hold. The top tier schools, especially in MBAs, are going to be around because of the recruiting situation. As long as there are recruiters showing up to employ the people who are graduating…those school [are safe]. It’ the middle and bottom tier where people are racking up debit and then the kids are graduating and not able to get jobs. That’s a business model that just doesn’t work. When it collapses, who knows?