By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Born to second-generation Irish-immigrant parents in Salem, Massachusetts, Welch gives much of the credit for his success to his mother, a supportive housewife who taught him ”the fun and joy of competition“ over rounds of gin rummy. His father, a railroad conductor on the Boston & Maine line, studied the commuters on his route and passed along his observations:
My father not only got me started on knowing what was going on outside of Salem, he also taught me, through example, the value of hard work. And he did something else that would last a lifetime -- he introduced me to golf. My father told me that the big shots on his train were always talking about their golf games.
The second half of that lesson provided Welch his Holy Grail. Golf is obviously the central pleasure of his life. He devotes a chapter to ”A Short Reflection on Golf,“ but spends less than a page -- two paragraphs, actually -- on his divorce from his first wife. ”Unfortunately, while I was doing the biggest deal of my professional career, the biggest merger of my personal life was ending,“ he writes. A page later, he sums up the advantages of his second marriage, to one Jane Beasley:
I had been trying to win club championships for years and had never gotten anywhere. We got better together. Even though she had never played golf before meeting me, Jane won the club championship at Sankaty Head in Nantucket four years in a row -- and I won it twice. She‘s become the perfect partner.
One assumes golfing and otherwise, but who can tell? (Welch may have messed up his good thang. He’s been in the news this month after revelations of an affair with Suzy Wetlaufer, editor in chief of the Harvard Business Review; evidently, a media merger was part of his post-GE strategy. Jane has filed for divorce.)
Welch claims that the sport of golf is a window into one‘s inner nature. ”I got a very early look at how attractive or how big a jackass someone can be by watching their behavior on the golf course,“ he writes. But his most important insight into the game emerges in the ”Reflections“ chapter: ”Golf is where you constantly seek the illusion of perfection.“ The game becomes a metaphor for avoiding the self, for pretending that character can be summed up by ”behavior,“ and social life by the teams one plays on.
While Welch’s family was merely working-class, Jones‘ endured deeper hardships. Mother Sarah was a schizophrenic institutionalized while Jones was a baby. At one point he visits her in the mental hospital, and she defecates into her palm, then eats her feces. Jones’ father teaches Quincy the value of self-reliance.
He provided a roof, a warm place to eat, and food; the rest was up to you. Besides, for as long as I knew him, he seemed to be in water over his head. Our house constantly teetered on the edge of emotional collapse, with one crisis after another. He had all these kids, everything always seemed to be falling apart in our house, no one seemed to know what was going on, everyone was bent on his own survival, yet he smiled and shrugged and went to work every day as if nothing was wrong.
To really understand Welch and Jones, you need to focus on their fathers‘ teachings. Every day Jones’ father put in an impossibly hard day of work ”as if nothing was wrong“; Welch‘s dad idealized the men who played golf, ”the illusion of perfection.“ Businessmen are often described as pragmatic, but Jones and Welch come across as dogged optimists who hold financial success as their romantic ideal.
Can we learn something of our nation’s economic well-being through their examples? On the plus side, there is the impression that these two are essentially good men. They appear to be forthright, fair and generous, though this might simply be what they‘re presenting for public consumption. Hence the minus side: They apparently lack the serenity that introspection and openness bring to a life. They spend little time considering the contents of their hearts and their heads, and their health suffers accordingly. Welch had a quintuple bypass in 1995; Jones, an aneurysm (”the equivalent of 16 strokes“) in 1974 and a mental breakdown in 1986.
The real moral of this story: If business be our only religion, then God help us.