Lifestyle

Jack and Suzy Welch give advice on navigating the workplace

Marcus Welch

He’s a global business icon, she’s a former editor of the Harvard Business Review, and together they’re Jack and Suzy Welch, a dynamic pair who married in 2004, and have been on a tear ever since.

They’ve written a best-selling book, “Winning.” They started a fully accredited online MBA program, the Jack Welch Management Institute. They’ve done many other impressive things individually and together; and now they’ve written another book, “The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career.”

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On a sunny morning in North Palm Beach, Fla. — where they live when they’re not in their homes in Manhattan, on Nantucket, or flying around the world — Jack, 79, and Suzy, 55, sat in their 10,000-plus-square-foot house overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and spoke by phone with the Globe.

They gave tips for changing your image at work; explained the importance of personal-brand building even for stay-at-home moms; warned about a big workplace mistake older workers make; and gushed about Happy, their Great Pyrenees.

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Happy’s an 85-pound rescue, and the first dog ever owned by the former chairman and CEO of the General Electric Co., a man voted one of America’s toughest bosses in a 1984 Fortune magazine poll.

Jack: I lived in Salem [growing up], and a little dog next door chewed the heck out my face and arms. I never wanted to see a dog again. When they came up to me they always knew I was afraid. Dogs would stay way from me, and I would turn away from them.

Suzy: It took me 15 years to convince Jack to get a dog.

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Jack: Now I can’t get enough of her. I’m very upset she can’t speak. I love her to pieces. I always wish she would talk to me.

Suzy: I have enough people talking to me.

Globe: You two have spoken to so many people who’ve lost jobs, who are afraid of losing jobs, who are trying to do better in their jobs. What’s the biggest fear you hear?

Suzy: Most people don’t know where they stand. One day their boss gives them an eye roll, and it can set back their whole day. It causes enormous stress.

Jack: As a leader, you have no right to have any employee wonder how they fit in and where they are going.

Globe: So what should an employee do?

Suzy: You should ask for a performance evaluation. Ask your boss, where do I stand? I need to know what I can do better and what I’m doing well.

‘Most people don’t know where they stand. One day their boss gives them an eye roll, and it can set back their whole day. It causes enormous stress.’ SUZY WELCH, on the biggest fears she hears from people

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Globe: Technology is so important at work — and so intimidating to some people who aren’t digital natives. What’s your advice to older workers, and by ‘older’ I mean anyone who’s not a Millennial?

Jack: Nothing is worse than the person in their 40s who says, ‘I’m not going to learn this.’ ‘I don’t carry an iPad.’ That will label you and put you right in the corner. Some people do it as a badge of honor. I’ve seen them myself, they walk around bragging [about not knowing much about technology].

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Suzy: Why don’t you carry a placard saying ‘I am a dinosaur.’ You’ve got to dig in [and learn about things you don’t know] if you want to stay in the conversation.

Globe: On the subject of reputations at work, what about someone who wants to rise, but feels it’s almost too late because he’s been pigeonholed?

Suzy: Embedded reputations — that’s one of the most daunting dynamics that can happen. You start as a secretary, or assistant, and you have that plastered on your forehead. Our advice is that you have to do something — change companies, get a degree, or go to a training program. Or ask to be on a very hard assignment or project that no one else wants. You can do it, but it doesn’t happen without true exertion.

Globe: Reading my Facebook feed, I’m always struck by people who seem to be building their own brands — independent from any formal work they do.

Suzy: I think in a way nobody doesn’t work anymore. Even moms who say, ‘I am out of the workforce.’ They may be writing mommy blogs with no expectation of making money, but they are building an onramp for when they do go back.

Globe: You have eight children and 10 grandchildren between you, ranging in age from 9 to 53. Do they ever ask for your advice? What do you tell them?

Suzy: It’s very dangerous to be related to us.

Jack: We’re not capable of holding ourselves back.

Suzy: We give them advice about over-delivering and finding their Area of Destiny [the intersection of the things you’re really good at with the things you love to do].

Globe: Speaking of happiness, or at least its pursuit, how did your dog get her name?

Suzy: Jack named Happy Happy because she made me so happy!

Interview was edited and condensed. Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.
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