The Thing Is: Jack Welch

It must be good to be a friend of Jack Welch, the former head of the largest company in the world, General Electric.

The generosity of the man is such that he gives away $52,486 (£33,588) in "gifts" every month. The question of who receives these gifts has not been answered in the divorce proceedings resulting from his split with Jane, his wife of 13 years. But they are just a fraction of the staggering $366,114 of outgoings and $2.1m of income revealed in Mr Welch's monthly accounts.

Gifts are his second-largest expense after the $200,000 a month he pays GE for his personal use of company assets. It's not just the odd bit of photocopying. Mr Welch has the use of GE's corporate jets and an apartment in New York, while his estranged wife has alleged he also watches from the GE corporate seats at sports events, and that his company expenses extend to toiletries and flowers.

Mr Welch had been getting these benefits for free. This came to an end, however, when they were revealed in the divorce case. GE shareholders protested, and the American financial regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, decided to investigate. Mr Welch announced he would in future pay for the perks to "avoid the company being dragged into a public fight".

Nicknamed "Neutron Jack" for sacking some 100,000 workers during his 20 years running GE, Mr Welch wed Jane, his second wife, in 1989. A corporate lawyer, who gave up her career to marry him, she is 17 years younger than Mr Welch, who celebrates his 67th birthday this month. He described her as the "perfect partner" in his autobiography, published only last year.

It was during the publicity round following the book launch that Mr Welch met the editor of the Harvard Business Review, Suzy Wetlaufer, whose charms he couldn't resist.

Jane filed for divorce, allowing the public to get a glimpse of her husband's most personal details. Other extravagances include $51,531 a month for the upkeep of his five houses, $5,480 a month for "country club dues", and $1,482 a month on holidays. Fine wines and restaurants also burn a $8,982-a-month hole in his pocket.

Clearly Mr Welch's accountant has a job on his hands. But then he receives fees of $20,000 a month to deal with it all.

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