New-Wave Managers: Jack Welch of GE

Last week, Fortune magazine featured five prominent CEOs and their views on new-millennium leadership. The five leaders have very different insights to offer, but they're all quite Foolish.

So I've been running through the Fortune piece, one CEO at a time, and showing you how the finest minds in corporate leadership today can help you find great investments. Today, we're finishing up the miniseries with a surprise guest, former General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) CEO Jack Welch, who offers this pearl of wisdom:

"I have to give Steve Jobs and Apple all kinds of credit. ... I don't know him well, but if I had to guess, he's a guy who isn't in love with the status quo -- he's always looking around the next corner."

Welch may be the poster child for old-school management philosophy, but he also appreciates new and effective styles when they come along. Steve Jobs has run Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) very well indeed since returning to the CEO spot in 1996. Reinjecting a creative spirit into the company he founded, Jobs rejuvenated the mismanaged Macintosh and its operating system by demanding that every product be "insanely great" and aim to make "raving fanatics" out of customers.

That approach brought the Mac back from irrelevance to selling more than 8 million desktops and laptops over the past 12 months, not to mention the startling success of the iPod and iTunes symbiosis. And Welch is right -- Jobs seems to lead his company as a lunatic would, and you never know which way he's gonna jump. You can't dissect him or predict him -- which, of course, means he's not a lunatic at all.

Staunchly committed to PowerPC chips from Motorola and IBM for many years, Apple recently switched to Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) chips, to rave reviews and increased sales. Of course, not every product announcement is a hit -- witness the iPod Hi-Fi clunker for a recent example -- but that's the risk you run when you take chances all the time. For the most part, things seem to work out, and it's all thanks to Jobs' visionary mindset.

It's true that I'd prefer to hear more about Apple's plans than the company shares these days, but Jobs knows how to prime a crowd for his product launches. That style has served his company well so far, and he has surely inspired many pioneers to take the road less traveled, do the unexpected, and reap the rewards.

That brings us to the end of this series. The business landscape is ever-changing, and it's up to business leaders to keep up with the changes -- or even lead the pack, like the managers featured here.

Other new-wavers include:

Steve Jobs is breaking all the rules of traditional business, and he's doing so with great success. David Gardner's motley gang at theMotley Fool Rule Breakersnewsletter service are standing by to help you find more avant-garde businesses. Try a30-day trial subscriptionto see whether that approach is right for you.

FoolcontributorAnders Bylundowns stock in Coca-Cola, a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation (as is Intel), but he doesn't hold any position in the other companies mentioned today. Check outhis holdingsfor yourself. Macintoshes don't make a great pie. Foolishdisclosure is all-seeing and all-powerful.


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