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The race is over, bar some shouting. Not, perhaps for president of the United States, but for the successor to Jack Welch at General Electric. Jeffrey Immelt, head of GE’s medical systems division, will take over as chairman and CEO at the beginning of 2002.

Welch, of course, is perhaps the most lauded business executive of the last 50 years. The 10-year chart of GE’s stock shows why. Of course there are technology companies that do as well on a 10-year view, but GE didn’t start from scratch: it’s the only company to figure in the top 10 companies in the US at the start of the 20th century and at the end.

But I take a contrary view on Welch. His achievement is undeniable, but I strongly suspect its a bizarre one-off. Despite his talk about GE’s core competencies, today’s GE is highly unlike to be preserved under his successor. Jet engines don’t belong with GE Capital, which doesn’t relate to medical systems, and none of them have anything to do with a television network. So Welch is extraordinary, but a long view will see him as something of an eccentric.

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