Generating the kind of excitement that many middle-aged managers might have once associated with an appearance by the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, Jack Welch came to Philadelphia on Nov. 19 to answer questions from an audience eager to know more about the secrets of his success.

The standing-room-only crowd, along with just about everyone else in corporate America, could probably have recited by heart the evidence of Welch’s leadership – how, for example, as CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2000, he grew the company’s market capitalization from $13 billion to almost $500 billion; how that achievement is all the more remarkable considering that GE blazed a trail as a conglomerate in an era when the accepted business wisdom strongly favored pure-play companies; how his passion for training and managing people is now emulated by CEOs at many of the country’s largest and most successful companies.

The talk, conducted as a question and answer session, covered the following topics:

The qualities of a great leader. According to Welch, the three principal qualities of a great leader are being passionate about what you are doing, caring about the people who work for you and being able to energize employees to reach beyond even what they believe they can achieve. To mentor leaders, he stressed nurturing self-confidence by giving people the opportunity to try new things and to succeed at them. Welch also spoke of the importance of caring about every employee and ensuring that they know they are valued.

General Electric’s 20/70/10 management philosophy. General Electric operates an annual appraisal system in which every manager is ranked in the top 20%, the ‘vital’ middle 70% and the bottom 10% among their peers. The bottom 10% is fired. Although the system has drawn criticism for being harsh, Welch said the cruelest thing you can do to employees is not give them candid feedback early in their careers. If an employee is not in the right job, he or she then has time to do something about it. All companies, he said, grade their employees; it’s just that in some organizations, employees may not know they have been evaluated until their department starts cutting back.

Business, he added at one point, is about winning and, as with successful sports teams, the best players should be paid the most.

His greatest mentor. Welch said that his mother helped build the self-confidence that has been the bedrock of his success. She used to explain his speech impediment by saying that his brain worked faster than his mouth. Welch joked that he was stupid enough to believe her.

Wall Street’s impact on General Electric’s business plans. Managing for the short and long run, Welch noted, were not mutually exclusive goals. He argued that the challenge is to manage for the short term while continuing to dream for the long term. At General Electric, the employees were the largest block of shareholders and Welch advised his managers to look down the corridors rather than to Wall Street to see for whom they were managing the company.

Future growth industries in the U.S. economy. Welch expressed excitement about the prospects for biotechnology and diagnostic imaging in health care, adding that he regretted never having had the courage to buy a biopharmaceutical company while he was at GE.

Negotiating deals. General Electric made almost 1,000 acquisitions and more than 400 divestments under Welch’s tenure. Deals work, Welch said, because the business strategy is right. In acquiring new businesses, he stressed the importance of not driving the hardest bargain possible and leaving something on the negotiating table as a way to develop a successful long-term relationship with the new subsidiary.

The European Commission in light of its obstruction of the Honeywell deal. Welch joked that the European Commission was 10 years old and like any 10-year-old it was badly behaved [in squashing GE’s proposed merger with Honeywell]. He had tried to reason with the Commission but noted that both the president of France and king of Sweden had earlier failed to get other separate deals through. And if they failed, he asked, how do expect an Irishman from Boston to succeed? On a more serious note, he said that the GE-Honeywell episode highlights the need to have clear global anti-trust laws.

Cross-cultural challenges. To manage a multinational business, Welch stressed the importance of looking at the similarities between cultures while being sensitive to differences. He said that respect for human dignity and giving people a voice translates into every language.

General Electric as a manifestation of globalization. Globalization, Welch said, is the most effective way of raising the standard of living for people from poorer countries. He pointed to Ireland, India and countries of Eastern Europe as examples. Welch also rejected environmental objections to globalization, citing GE’s policy of improving the neighborhood wherever it does business. The only anti-globalization argument he had any sympathy for was that of trade unions who objected to the threat of cheaper labor.

Whether he would accept a senior political appointment. Welch said that his skill set was focused on doing things. Consequently, he did not believe that he would last very long in Washington.

Impact of September 11. Welch suggested that the events of September 11 – the day he was supposed to start his book tour – make Americans feel like they live in a “whole different country.” He compared the period after the terrorist attacks to the 1950s, with people wanting to make a difference in their communities rather than focusing on materialistic ends. He said that he was excited about the youth of America and that they bode well for the future.

Advice for MBAs. Welch stressed the importance of doing something that you love rather than being seduced by a larger starting salary. He showed little respect for people who felt that they were victims at work and took their dissatisfaction home to their families. He also praised the value of achieving balance in life by both working hard and playing hard.