Jan 19, 2017

Trump is about to test CEO President Theory

Evan Vucci / AP

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.

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 outgoing Starbucks boss Howard Schultz...

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