NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Jack Welch, chief executive of General Electric Co. and one of the world's most admired executives, plans to retire in April, 2001.
Welch, 63, had previously announced plans to retire at age 65. He turns 65 next November, but will stay on until after the company's annual meeting the following spring.
"We view this as a normal progression," said a GE spokesman. "Rather than leave on his birthday, this is more natural. We didn't think this was that big a deal because of his previous announcement, but because it's Jack Welch, it is a big deal."
A successor to the man who is the subject of the McGraw Hill book Jack Welch and the GE Way is expected to be named by the end of next year, the spokesman said.
A long way from 'Neutron Jack'
Welch has been chairman and CEO of GE (GE), since 1981, and during that time his reputation in the business world has become as large and legendary as the company's coffers.
This week, Fortune magazine named him "Manager of the Century."
Welch took over a company that was primarily a manufacturer with $3 billion in market capitalization and turned it into a conglomerate that includes one of the nation's top financial services companies, GE Capital, and the NBC television network. GE now has a market capitalization of $424 billion, which puts it among the most highly valued companies in the world.
But the journey to increased profitability was marked by difficult -- and sometimes unpopular -- decisions.
After taking over as chairman, Welch shook up GE's management structure and sold major business divisions that he felt couldn't become leaders in their fields. Early castoffs included GE's housewares, air conditioning and semiconductor businesses.
The brutal cutbacks, which resulted in 100,000 jobs being lost, earned Welch the nickname "Neutron Jack," in reference to the bomb that kills people but leaves buildings intact.
Welch has always bristled at the name, insisting that successful companies needed to be agile. He also has said that generous severance packages and long notification periods provided a "soft landing" for GE employees who lost jobs.
The course Welch chose to steer has paid off for the company -- handsomely. Annual profits have risen from $1.6 billion to $9.3 billion during his tenure. And the company's stock has prospered as well.
Shares in GE were trading up 2-7/8 to 132-1/4 in late morning trade, not far below their 52-week high of 136-5/16.
-- from staff and wire reports