A Businessman in the White House

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I see that the mainstream press is starting to pick up on the idea that Americans rarely elect presidents whose primary identity is as a business leader. Here is Bloomberg’s David Lynch:

Since 1900, few former businessmen have made it to the Oval Office. The most prominent was the nation’s 31st president, Herbert Hoover, whose handling of the economy during the Great Depression cemented his reputation as a failure.

….“Our entire system of government is meant to preclude models and skills used in the corporate world, which may be why presidents with business experience are not our most successful presidents,” says Barbara Perry, a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

Well, there are always exceptions, and maybe Romney will be one. But I have to laugh at this anecdote near the end of the piece. The setting is a Staples offsite board meeting:

“It’s after dinner. People are getting tired. Some directors are rolling their eyes,” [Staples founder Tom] Stemberg recalls. “Mitt was wide awake and he started to give us a little spiel.” Citing his experience with superlative management teams at corporations such as General Electric Co. (GE), Romney told the exhausted executives: You can decide to be mediocre or you can decide to be a great company.

With that, the division chiefs, who moments earlier had offered up easily reachable goals, began competing to promise the loftiest earnings. “He would get you to stretch,” Stemberg says.

Uh huh. I’ve seen meetings like that. It’s not exactly Hollywood-worthy when division heads try to lowball their goals and the CEO pushes back. In fact, I’d say that describes just about every corporate planning meeting ever held. And you know what? The CEO usually wins. Why? Not because he’s an inspirational genius who’s gotten everyone to “stretch,” but because he’s the CEO. In the end, the corporate VPs really don’t have much choice in the matter.

I dunno. I can’t say that I’ve seen much evidence of Romney’s inspiring side. Still, I suppose he might have one but just doesn’t waste it on us rubes. We’ll see.


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