Hail to the Chiefs
During the presidential campaign, a common refrain from Trump supporters was that America needed a businessman in the White House. Someone who had met a payroll, operated in the "real world," etc. Even more optimal was someone who had zero experience in public service (sorry, Mitt Romney), since it's hard to shake the reflexive stain of "business as usual."
My gut reaction was always twofold: (1) Running a government shares little in common with running a for-profit enterprise, save for organizational skills. (2) The businessman would likely surround himself with a lot of people who do have public-sector experience, so even a Trump victory wouldn't really test the hypothesis.
On that second part, I was largely wrong. Trump's incoming administration is untraditionally heavy on CEOs who have never before sniffed government. Examples include Rex Tillerson (Sec of State), Wilbur Ross (Commerce), Andy Puzder (Labor) and Steve Mnuchin (Treasury). And that's just Cabinet-level positions (see today's news on Scaramucci, Anthony).
Which brings us back to #1: We're about to test the CEO theory. If the Trump Administration proves successful by objective measures (economic/job growth, foreign/domestic tranquility, etc.), then it's quite likely that the candidate paradigm will have been shifted for decades to come. If you want to become president, first become a CEO ― rather than first run for lower public office. Kind of like how VC firms now prefer to pluck new partners from operating companies than from banks or consulting shops. But if Trump consensus fails, then CEOs will be looking at a long, cold electoral winter. Kind of a double-edged sword for someone like Howard Schultz...
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More Trumpland: Earlier this week we mentioned that the two leading candidates to lead FDA had venture capital ties (Scott Gottlieb of NEA and Jim O'Neill of Mithril). A third name emerged yesterday, also from the VC space: Balaji Srinivasan, a board partner with Andreessen Horowitz who currently leads bitcoin hardware startup 21 Co. He met with PEOTUS yesterday, and has a colorful Twitter history when it comes to both the FDA (he's not a huge fan) and Trump himself (ditto). While it remains unclear who will get the nod, one thing that seems certain is that FDA is the federal agency where Peter Thiel is having his greatest influence.
Speaking of Thiel: By now, many of you have probably read his sit-down with Maureen Dowd. And you perhaps cringed when he downplayed concerns about sexual assault by arguing that people in Silicon Valley are hypersensitive because they aren't getting laid enough. But in light of the FDA discussion, I was particularly surprised by this Thiel claim: "You're not allowed to develop drugs that could stop aging."
Really? Isn't that the entire conceit behind Calico, into which Google has plugged around $1 billion? Or some of what Novartis is exploring? It's true that FDA doesn't consider aging to be a disease, but that doesn't mean that pharma isn't allowed to work on the issue.
Uh oh: It's not nearly to the level of Theranos, but the collapse of VC-backed drone startup Lily is becoming a serious Silicon Valley scandal. Here's the latest.