Jack Welch: 'I Fell In Love'

Jack And Suzy Welch Tell Their Story To <B>Dan Rather</B>

GE offered Welch stock options, which he didn't take. "I got plenty of money," says Welch.

But would he have been better off to take it? "$300 million? I'd be much better with that in the pocket than the – than that little plane ride and the chauffeured car," says Welch.

So why didn't he take it? "Because I thought I had more than I ever dreamt I'd ever need," says Welch. "And I liked flying around in the company plane. And it was -- it was easier for me to do that -- and I had plenty of money. I didn't need more money. This is the opposite of greed. OK?"

What about the other perks he received: an apartment, airplane and Yankee tickets. Why couldn't he just buy it himself?

"Well, first of all, I don't go to the Yankees game, OK. I use them as -- I'm a Red Sox fan. And I use the Red Sox box once in two years," says Welch. "Look, why-- and why do I like the GE plane? Because it was very convenient to keep using it. That's all I wanted to do. I just didn't want to change my lifestyle."

"Turned out to be a big mistake," says Rather.

"Not really. I mean, look, you get divorced. Things happen," says Welch. "I have nobody to blame for the divorce but myself. I'm happy it happened. I'm thrilled to go on with life."

But even though Welch says the deal was perfectly legal, he was being skewered by the media, which put him on the same page with other stories about corporate greed. So he decided to renounce the perks and give them back to GE.

"I work for a company for 40 years. I love this company. I got two choices. Give the money back, renounce the perk," says Welch. "Then if I do that, I look like I did something wrong. I shouldn't have had it. Or keep the perk. Then I look like a greedy pig. Now, take those two choices, OK? That's a beautiful dilemma to be sitting on. So I decide I'll give it back, and GE got completely out of the press."

Welch says he was "120 percent innocent."

He also feels he did exactly the right thing when he met a younger woman named Suzy Wetlaufer. She wasn't married, but he was. The gossip was nasty and the headlines were just as bad. But Wetlaufer, a writer and former journalist, became the third Mrs. Welch.

Welch, 69, and the new Suzy Welch, 45, have been married less than a year. But they've already written a new book together called "Winning," and they call themselves not only teammates, but also soul mates.

They've managed to weather an ugly storm about their relationship, which began just after Welch retired as chairman of GE, but was still married to his second wife.

Wetlaufer was divorced and the mother of four children. She was also editor of the Harvard Business Review. She met Welch in 2001, when she showed up in his office to interview him for her magazine.

"When I first met Jack, I was terrified of him," recalls Suzy Welch. "I wasn't expecting a fun, laughing., enjoyable, exciting guy. I walked into his office like most people, with my knees knocking together. I was scared."

"He says, 'Come on in.' And I came on in, still sort of heart pounding in chest. We sat down. And I turned on my tape recorder. I had my list of questions, and I started down them," adds Suzy Welch. "And within 10 minutes or so, I noticed I was having an awfully good time chatting with this guy. And we had a great long conversation that covered a huge amount of territory."

All on tape? "Yes," says Suzy Welch.

Well, not exactly. "I've read several places that at some point he reached over and said, 'Turn the tape recorder off.' Did that happen or not," asks Rather.

"Yes," says Welch.

What made Welch want to turn the tape recorder off? "I wanted to know more about her," he says.

And he did. Was Suzy Welch flattered?

"I was perplexed by that," she says.

"It was a perfectly harmless exchange between the two of us," says Jack Welch. "It lasted probably about 10 minutes max, maybe five. I asked her about her kids, about her marriage."

"Did he make a run on you during the time," asks Rather.

"Oh, gosh, no, no, he didn't," says Suzy Welch, laughing. "Not that – it -- the first time we met and that first very exciting, wonderful interview, it's fair to say sparks flew. But nothing happened."

Suzy Welch then says she turned the tape recorder back on and wrapped up the interview. She wrote her article and, a couple of months later, went to New York to have a picture taken with Welch for the magazine.

"I went down. We had the picture taken together. And then we went out to lunch," she says.

"No, the way it happened was this way," says Welch. "I said, 'You want to go to lunch?' And she said, 'Yeah, let me get my calendar.' I said, 'No, today.' And so she said, 'OK.'"

Suzy Welch says things began to get serious a few weeks after that: "There was no denying what was happening. We were falling in love."

"Did you discuss it between yourselves at that time," asks Rather.

"We were not unaware of the fact that – circumstances -- I was divorced. But Jack was not," says Suzy Welch. "And the circumstances were not perfect or what you would wish in such a situation."