NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The New Yorker Best Books of 2022 • Financial Times Best Books of 2022 • The Economist Best Books of 2022
The dramatic rise—and unimaginable fall—of America's most iconic corporation by New York Times bestselling author and pre-eminent financial journalist William D. Cohan
No company embodied American ingenuity, innovation, and industrial power more spectacularly and more consistently than the General Electric Company. GE once developed and manufactured many of the inventions we take for granted today, nearly everything from the lightbulb to the jet engine. GE also built a cult of financial and leadership success envied across the globe and became the world’s most valuable and most admired company. But even at the height of its prestige and influence, cracks were forming in its formidable foundation.
In a masterful re-appraisal of a company that once claimed to “bring good things to life,” pre-eminent financial journalist William D. Cohan argues that the incredible story of GE’s rise and fall is not only a paragon, but also a prism through which we can better understand American capitalism. Beginning with its founding, innovations, and exponential growth through acquisitions and mergers, Cohan plumbs the depths of GE's storied management culture, its pioneering doctrine of shareholder value, and its seemingly hidden blind spots, to reveal that GE wasn't immune from the hubris and avoidable mistakes suffered by many other corporations.
In Power Failure, Cohan punctures the myth of GE, exploring in a rich narrative how a once-great company wound up broken and in tatters—a cautionary tale for the ages.
Cohan (The Last Tycoons), a journalist and former investment banker, delivers an ambitious history of General Electric, suggesting that the company's story offers "a cautionary tale about hubris, blind ambition, and the limits of believing—and trying to live up continuously to—a flawed corporate mythology." The author tracks that mythology, which "embodied both the muscle of American business—entrepreneurial drive, inventiveness, financial legerdemain— and its weaknesses," from the company's early days in the late 1800s with Thomas Alva Edison and Charles Albert Coffin at the helm, through the reigns of Jack Welch, "the octogenarian titan of American capitalism" who took over GE in the middle of a price-fixing scandal in the 1960s, and Jeff Immelt, who was running GE's medical equipment business when he was tapped to be CEO in 2001. Meticulously researched, Cohan's history covers the EPA/Hudson river scandal in the 1970s (in which GE was caught dumping chemicals), the late-'90s immersion of "Six Sigma" statistics-based practices into corporate life, and intense succession battles. Cohan's access to the major players bears significant fruit, and the resulting narrative is dramatic without being overblown, making for a gripping account of a corporate behemoth and the men who ran it. Business history buffs, take note.)
Great behind the scenes account
Interesting and easy read shining a spotlight on the inner workings of the C suite and Boards. Immelt takes a lot of heat though Welch really should be painted worse.
Good writing. Reads like a novel. Many lessons for executives.