Alex: Let’s play Jeopardy!
Willard: Presidents for $400 Alex.
Alex: He was the only President with an MBA.
Willard: Who was George W. Bush?
Willard: Presidents for $500, Alex.
Alex: He was the President who campaigned on his business success with the slogan, “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage”.
Willard: Who was Herbert Hoover?
Alex: Right again!
The last big business executive to be elected President was Herbert Hoover. We all know how that worked out.
The very qualities that make one successful in corporate America are antithetical to being a successful President.
Corporate management encourages a form of tunnel vision that ultimately focuses on one measurable, primary and singular objective – the maximization of profit. By contrast the Oval Office requires balancing numerous competing interests that are rarely quantifiable and difficult if not impossible to prioritize.
In addition, the principal focus of public companies emphasizes short-term thinking over long-term planning. The focus on profitability is realized in shareholder gains. These are reported quarterly as earnings per share which are the fundamental drivers of stock prices. A CEO’s viability in office usually boils down to being able to sustain growth in these 3 month targets. A President, on the other hand, is measured by their performance over a three to four year time horizon.
Another factor we hear repeatedly is the need for business leaders to have economic certainty. This is the excuse constantly given why cash rich companies are not investing. The lack of certainty in the economy leads to dithering and inaction that is considered acceptable by financial observers. The President of the United States lives in a world dominated by uncertainty and constantly shifting opinions. Nevertheless he must be capable of making decisions and accepting as well as adapting to the consequences.
All of these elements indicate that success in the corporate world is a liability in a candidate for President of the United States.