Friday, May 27, 2011

The Myth of the CEO President (of the U.S.)

By Rick Gould, CPA, JD

It was not surprising to learn this week that Donald Trump finally decided not to run for president. I, for one, never expected him to run; too much to lose, too little to gain.

I respect and admire The Donald for his entrepreneurial energy and his razor-sharp ability. Thinking big and turning adversity into business triumphs are his strong suit. He has created a brand second to none. The legacy of his name is a cash-cow. His buildings are among the highest quality. He has done much for New York City. He is a creator, an innovator, a true visionary. The list goes on.

I am happy for him to continue in this role, as well as in his very lucrative prime-time role in “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice”. (Yes, I’m a viewer.) However, his idea of a CEO President, in my view, is a dream. A myth. Far from reality. Let me explain.

His concept is fueled by wealth, power and, yes, a very large ego. It is further fueled by those who support him and by people who want to identify with him, and with the buzz. With the glamour and excitement. These things are subordinate to what a successful president really needs to be focused on. Does The Donald, or any other high-profile CEO, really have the humility to put this aside in fulfilling the job description of U.S. President?

Many dynamic and successful corporate CEO’s dream of ascending to high political office. In addition to Mr. Trump, there is Mitt Romney - a founder of Bain Capital in Boston (for President), Carly Fiorina - former CEO of Hewlett Packard (for Senator of California), and Meg Whitman - former CEO of E-Bay (for Governor of California) to name just a few. But can these CEO’s and former CEO’s withstand the media and public scrutiny that comes with the territory of running for elected office? Can they handle the requisite financial disclosure, the dirty laundry and skeletons in the closet being aired? The divorces and love-children playing out in the media? The incredible number of political surprises and resignations from candidates and elected officials of the past few years shows running for any office a challenge, one that is well beyond an accumulation of votes. The possibility of being smeared by the media, right or wrong, true or untrue, always exists.

I, being a product of the business world, wonder if these successful CEO’s can truly run the country as well as their own companies. Would they be as effective as a CEO President as they are as Chief Executive? It takes extremely different skill sets to run a country. In addition to their charisma, which they all seem to have, being President requires diplomacy and the ability to inspire and engage people of all walks of life... both friends and enemies. The Chief Executive is not accountable to voters, only to his/her board of directors and investment bankers. The President is accountable to his/her cabinet, to congress, to special interest groups… and ultimately to the voters.

Few American Presidents have the background, experience and ability to run a large Fortune 500 company. And even fewer CEO’s have what it takes to handle the realm of personal exposure a presidency brings. Those who believe that our country can be run like a corporation and by a corporate Chief Executive are in for a long wait. I doubt if it will ever happen.

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