March 6, 2020

End of an Era

End of an Era

As the world now knows, Jack Welch, the legendary former chairman & CEO of GE, passed away this week at 84. There are few business leaders who’ve had such a deep and lasting impact on the culture of business, and there are even fewer who could compete with him for the mantle of “manager of the century,” as Fortune once described him.

Jack Welch didn’t always make friends with his tough decisions, like eliminating 100,000 jobs as part of his shakeup to improve profitability (detractors called him “Neutron Jack,” as some of you may recall), but you had to admire his commitment to results. GE’s market value grew from $12 billion to $410 billion during his 20 years at the helm.

He also loved the art of the deal – something I can relate to personally (as more than a few of you are aware). I didn’t realize until reading some of the recaps of his life that, in addition to his acquisition of RCA Corp., he oversaw more than 1,000 deals at GE. And I thought all of our M&A activity at Marcum over the past 10 years or so was keeping me busy! This was a man with a passion and a keen eye for business growth that the rest of us can only envy.

We also just lost Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s. He passed away last week at 89 at his home in Pasadena.

Joe Coulombe was a great example of the power of knowing your customer better than anyone else. He knew who he wanted to cater to and said his brand was designed for “overeducated and underpaid” people – like journalists, classical musicians and museum curators – whose more sophisticated palates would appreciate the stores’ extensive, economy-priced wine selection and mix of exotic, interesting and healthy foods. And he was right.

And Joe’s vision transcended his leadership. Even after he sold the chain in 1979, that vision continued to guide the chain’s growth. There are now more than 500 Trader Joe’s stores nationwide – and counting.

Joe Coulombe was a master of the middle-market scale-up, while Jack Welch defined what it was to lead a giant conglomerate, but they had something big in common: both understood that this thing we spend our time on called business is about a whole lot more. RIP Jack and Joe.

And while we’re on it, it should also be noted that James Lipton, the mastermind behind Inside the Actors Studio, passed away this week as well. If you’ve never seen the show, do yourself a favor and look for the reruns on cable. Lipton conducted some of the greatest interviews with stars of stage and screen ever seen on TV (or anywhere else). It’s as up-close-and-personal most of us are ever likely to get with our favorite celebrities. He will be missed!

As of this writing there are less than 200 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and less than 15 Americans have died from it. But it’s sure to get worse before it gets better. No one under 9 years old has contracted it (yet). It’s particularly contagious and much more dangerous than other respiratory viruses for people over 80 and those at high risk. But no one knows what the actual incidence of illness or the associated death rate will ultimately turn out to be.

Businesses like United Airlines and JetBlue, which both announced flight reductions (10% and 5% respectively), are starting to feel the economic effects, and the stock market has been a seesaw for the past week or so as the markets try and come to grips with what the eventual economic fallout might be. But in reality, much if not all of it is out of our individual control.

Here at Marcum we are trying to do what we can to reassure our team and raise consciousness about whatever steps we can all take to try and prevent the spread of the virus in our business community – wash frequently, don’t come to work if you’re the least bit sick, work from home if you feel more comfortable, stay away from others who are sneezing and coughing, avoid shaking hands if possible, and follow CDC guidelines for dealing with the virus.

As I said last week, stay healthy everyone!