Can A CEO Be Successful In The White House?

I have been pondering the role of a business education within the larger context. It is palpable that business plays an important role in society. Economic endeavors are critical to a societies function, thus the importance of process. However, the question of managerial expertise and political success is an interesting dialogue. Alan Blinder explores this in today’s WSJ. I thought it would be interesting to write some of my thoughts on the matter.

Blinder argues that “Presidential history teaches us that the abilities, character traits, and attitudes it takes to succeed in business have little in common with what it takes to succeed in government. In some respects it is antithetical.” At face value I don’t agree with this, but it depends what he defines as abilities, character traits, and attitudes. If he is focusing on traditional military style business skills, then I would agree with him. If he sees these traits within a more political framework of business skills such as collaboration and communication, then he has missed the point.

The first trait he focuses on as a measurement of business success involves money. “You keep score with money.” This is antithetical to the modern business model of sustainability. An economic scorecard is important, but so is social value, and environmental success. Blinder is using an antiquated measurement to determine what a business skill is.

The next area of discussion involves democracy in the workplace, and I would agree that most companies are not run as a democracy. “All the checks and balances that characterize American Democracy would drive a hard charging CEO, accustomed to getting his own way, crazy.” Again, an antiquated description of how a business is run. I will give Blinder the benefit of the limitations of Democracy within the workplace, but most companies do have some element of due process within its governance process. However, he missed the boat when it comes to CEO despotism. The modern CEO is much more politically astute, recognizing that collaboration and coalition building leads to more success within an organization.

Blinder then uses Gordon Gekko, a mythical figure, to make his next point. “Fair dealing can be important in the business world, too. But fairness per se – in the sense of everyone getting his or her just deserts – rarely is. Markets are engines of efficiency, not fairness. In fact, a generous helping of greed may be good in business, as Gordon Gekko -and before him, Adam Smith – taught us.” I for one would not want to make a point using someone as despicable as a Gordon Gekko.

Max Weber argues that a bureaucracy is the most efficient type of organization. It is structured to be fair and objective. Organizations create policies to create efficient processes that can be objective and fairly administered. Does this mean that everything within business is fair? Absolutely not!

I would argue that the running of a business and the nation is very similar. A business has resources, as does a government. A business has people, and so does a nation. A CEO is required to have political skills, and so does a President. I think Blinder is using an antiquated stereotype of business leadership to make his point.

Does this mean I will vote for Mitt Romney for President? I don’t know yet. To generalize by saying that a CEO will not be a good President is too simplistic. To say that a particular CEO would not make a good President is much more reasonable. Mr. Blinder, stop using degenerative stereotypes to make a point. The way we do Business is changing, and in my opinion, for the better.

And that is my thought for the day!


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