business and the oval office…a duck out of water

A good read in today’s Wall Street Journal, the following article brings perspective to the requirements of the Oval Office. Where I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I felt in my gut, this writer nailed it. Perhaps you’ll agree. Let me know what you think.

The Case Against a CEO in the Oval Office
by Alan S. Blinder

Mitt Romney, Mr. 1% - Cartoon

Mitt Romney, Mr. 1% – Cartoon (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Mitt Romney bases his case for being president on his evident success in business, where he made a fortune as CEO of Bain Capital. But are business achievements important, or even relevant, to the presidency?

Probably not. 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, they are antithetical.

Think of our greatest presidents. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the two Roosevelts didn’t have any business accomplishments to their credit. (Well, maybe Washington did, a little.) Neither, by the way, did Republican icon Ronald Reagan, who was once a union leader. Harry Truman sold a few hats, and Woodrow Wilson was a professor. On the other hand, the two truly successful businessmen to win the presidency were Herbert Hoover and George H.W. Bush.

This negative correlation between business success and political success is probably not a coincidence. Nolan Bushnell, the highly successful entrepreneur who founded both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, once observed that “Business is a good game–lots of competition and a minimum of rules. You keep score with money.” That’s virtually the opposite of being president of the United States: The president has no direct competitors (though he does have opponents), must abide by numerous rules and certainly doesn’t keep score with money.

The differences between business and government are manifold. Start with democracy, the preservation and strengthening of which may be a president’s first duty. Not many successful companies are run as democracies; benign dictatorship works far better. All the checks and balances that characterize American democracy would drive a hard-charging CEO, accustomed to getting his own way, crazy.

Sound companies dote on efficiency. They’d better, for the competitive marketplace is a tough environment. If you’re less efficient than your competitors, you’ll founder and probably fail. That’s what we love about capitalism–the survival of the fittest.

While there are niches in the federal government where efficiency matters a great deal, such as in defense procurement or running the General Services Administration, the White House isn’t one of them. Hoover was a sterling manager. But as he learned painfully, the big decisions aren’t about efficiency at all. It may even be critical to cut people a little slack here and there.

Rather than worshiping efficiency, some notion of ” fairness” is typically paramount in government. One of the key success criteria in politics may be public perceptions of fairness, for perceptions and realities don’t always line up.

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.

Which brings us back to keeping score. Top business executives focus single-mindedly on the “bottom line,” meaning profits. Among the reasons why so many smart business people fail in politics and government is that there is no bottom line–or perhaps I should say there are so many bottom lines that the search for a single one is futile.

A president wants to further the national interest. But that amorphous phrase subsumes dozens of goals, some of which are vague and several of which may conflict with others. Governing is certainly not about profits, whatever that might mean in a political context. The crisp political goal analogous to maximizing profits is maximizing your chances of re-election. But do we really want a president who dotes on that every day? By that ignoble standard, Richard Nixon was surely one of our greatest presidents and Lincoln one of our worst.

A long-standing debate rages over whether companies should act solely in the interests of their shareholders or should consider more broadly the well-being of “stakeholders”–a more encompassing term that includes (at a minimum) employees, suppliers, and the communities in which they operate. Stakeholder versus shareholder perspectives can lead to quite different decisions. Think, for example, of laying off workers or closing a plant. But there is no such debate in the private-equity world, Mr. Romney’s business home. Bain Capital’s website says that the firm’s mission “is to produce superior investment returns for our investors,” period. Governments need a wider view.

A good president communicates well with people and inspires them. Think about Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt–or more recently, Reagan and Bill Clinton. Corporate leaders need communication skills, too, but of rather different sorts. Mitt Romney’s repeated verbal stumbles bear witness to the differences; I presume he was a whiz with balance sheets and corporate boards. Barack Obama may never have met a payroll, but he’s a gifted orator, and empathy and fairness are in his bones.

Presidents must also be patient, a trait not prized in CEOs. A CEO often demands quick action and results. But the American system of government wasn’t designed for rapid change. Those annoying checks and balances are meant to get in the way. You don’t have to remind President Obama that Congress often tosses his ideas out the window–or totally ignores them. That doesn’t happen much to CEOs, whose underlings generally snap to attention. That may be why Mr. Romney keeps telling us all the things he’ll do in his first days in office. Oh, really? He apparently hasn’t met the U.S. Congress.

Setting foreign and military policy is the one place where, as George W. Bush inelegantly put it, the president often is “the decider.” But it’s the rare corporate executive who has any experience in, or even much knowledge of, these matters. Recall former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain stumbling over the names of countries. But it is the rare president who is not immersed in foreign policy virtually every day.

So don’t be surprised to find a superior businessman looking like a duck out of water as a presidential candidate. It is what history and logic should lead you to expect. The business of America’s government is not business.

The Peacemakers.

The Peacemakers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Mr. Blinder, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, is a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.)

 

English: President Barack Obama welcomes Israe...

English: President Barack Obama welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres in the Oval Office Tuesday, May 5, 2009. At right is Vice President Joe Biden. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. Français : President Barack Obama accueille le président israélien Shimon Peres dans le bureau ovale mardi 5 mai 2009. A droite, le vice-président Joe Biden. Photo officielle de la Maison Blanche par Pete Souza. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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get an opinion…

dripping faucet

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James from Zes Bro Plumbing fixed a trio of seemingly small issues today. Water leaked from the shut-off valve of the toilet in our main floor bathroom. The tap in our master bath had been slow-dripping water for some time now. And the outdoor spiget alongside the house was missing a piece which connected to a hose. I’m thinking the construction crew that remodeled our kitchen/dining room a few years ago might have removed it when they were contracted to also build steps leading down the adjacent slope.

James, the plumber, did an outstanding job, informing me of the structural issues and what he planned to do to repair the problems. If there were options based upon price, he would tell me what they were and allow me to decide between them. Because we’ll be remodeling the master bath next year, and to some extent the main bath, I went with the cheaper solutions. James agreed with my decisions.

In order to repair the outdoor water faucet, James had to run to the hardware store for a part. He indicated he would be gone 25 minutes, and he was true to his word. Several minutes later, he had completed all designated tasks. Plumbers aren’t cheap, but I thought his charge for parts and labor of $291 for 3 hours work was fair. My husband agreed. It wasn’t the nightmare that others have complained about when repairmen have greedily charged exhorbitant rates. And when they’ve got you “over a barrel,” what can you do but pay up, or go 9 rounds in a confrontational match.

Image representing TripAdvisor as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

Whenever I require something, from a hotel to a repair person to a furniture mover, I troll the internet looking for reviews. When we’ve traveled to another state or to Europe, I have spent many a day and night winding my way through TripAdvisor.com. Reading others’ reviews of hotels, scenic sights, and restaurants, saved me the aggravation and expense of buying into something I might regret. Of course no two people are exactly the same in their likes and dislikes, but most people want pretty much the same when it comes to basics. It’s usually the extras where we might differ. Give me clean, good value, good attitude. Helpful, friendly, charming, quality are the added perks for which I’ll pay a little extra. TripAdvisor lets me decide where I’ll spend my money.

yelp inc magazine

Image by calmenda via Flickr

Yelp is another internet tool that offers the opinions of real consumers, like you and me. And unlike Angie’s List, Yelp is free. That’s where I searched for a review on a plumber I had thought of using. The company had a coupon in the monthly ValPak envelope I get in the mail. I’m glad I turned to Yelp, before calling Southwest Plumbing. Of the several complaints, the main ones were that the workers often arrived late for the job, and the prices quoted were excessive. One was for $1,345! And the homeowner sounded unprepared for that figure, whatever it was he was having done.

Better Business Bureau logo.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s highly doubtful that I would hire someone “blind,” or travel somewhere without first doing extensive research. I can always count on TripAdvisor and Yelp to assist, any time of the day or night. They’re on-call, 24/7. And if they don’t have what I need, I just google what it is I’m looking for, or look on the Better Business Bureau’s website. Their info is not as great as the first-hand reviews available from TripAdvisor and Yelp, but anything is better than nothing.

 feel better knowing someone’s been down that road………before me  ………….hugmamma.   

and the award goes to…

Comcast Corporate Customer Service!!! Yessir, they’ve done it again. Just as I’d done months ago (check my winter month archives), I sent an email off to my buddy Mark Casem at we_can_help@Comcast.com, this time asking for information regarding my daughter’s cable service. She was under the impression that because she was moving from one apartment to another, that there might be a promotion offering a discount of some sort. I wasn’t so certain. So she called her local Comcast, first as a current customer, and then, upon my husband’s advice, as a prospective one. In both cases, my daughter was treated as though she were engaged in the sidewalk scam, the shell game.” The guy shows you a pebble and directs you to watch it as he moves it from under one cup, to another, then another. After doing this a few times, the game ends with you selecting the  cup under which the pebble finally came to rest. Our family’s not the type to engage in mind games. We prefer to deal truthfully. Of course there are times when you’ve got to strategize. That’s code for confrontation…without being confrontational. Not my cup of tea. But hey! That’s life. If we have to…then bring it on.

Unable to decide whether she should simply transfer at the same rate she’d been paying, or disconnecting and trying for a better rate, my daughter pondered her options. With the clock ticking towards 6/28, tomorrow, when Comcast was scheduled to cut off her service, I told her I’d write headquarters to see if they were aware of anything that might help persuade my daughter one way or the other. My mantra continues to be “It never hurts to ask. All they can do is say no. It’s nothing personal, after all they don’t know me from Eve.” Of course I may not like their answer, but I can always opt out and go elsewhere. Not easy, for sure. But again, that’s life.

Mark Casem didn’t reply to my email, but a Michael Cardone did. He asked me to forward my daughter’s account number (telephone number) and her contact number, which I did. The next day my daughter received a confusing voice mail. Because I’d been one digit off in her account number, Comcast headquarters asked the local Comcast to call a Mr. Collins about his query. Of course my daughter felt the call had been misdirected, but when another voice mail was left, she decided to call the local rep back. 

Customer Service

Image by RW PhotoBug via Flickr

Happily, my daughter indicated the Comcast rep couldn’t have been nicer, and offered my daughter the same deal she received when she moved to her old apartment 4 1/2 years ago, $99/month for all three services, phone, internet and TV, for an entire year!!! Normally the package costs $160 monthly. Satisfied, my daughter decided to take the offer.

It’s been my experience that local Comcast stations aren’t as diligent about customer service as the corporate office. I suppose as with any operation, the further afield one gets from headquarters, the less “corporate” the mentality. Rules have a way of becoming more localized, perhaps to suit the surrounding population. Dealings with our local rep here are a whole lot better than when I lived with my daughter for a couple of years in Atlanta. Service there was “hit or miss.” My feeling now is if I can’t beat them at their own game, I’ll just call out the big guns…Comcast Corporate Customer Service.   

I will always be grateful for having lived and worked in NYC. I learned to speak up rather than always hold my tongue; try very hard not to take things personally; and celebrate the small things… for therein lie our biggest accomplishments. I think my daughter’s becoming New York savvy. 

Comcast Building

Image via Wikipedia

…another win…for david and his slingshot…hugmamma. 

 

365 photo challenge: mountain

Mount Rainier over Tacoma, Washington, USA.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s probably taken me the last 24 hours to climb a “mountain.” Not just any mountain, for it felt as though I was scaling Mount Rainier, what with the monumental effort I had to exert to get to the summit. My friend Sylvia, and perhaps other like-minded seniors, will understand how ominous it is to undertake any task that involves technological lingo.

Reading the book and writing its review for my previous post “the daughter’s walk”…spokane to nyc, were easy. Figuring out the remaining components required to publish my post on Blogging For Books and retailer Amazon.com was excruciatingly painful. My back still aches from the stress. But my mind is still doing cartwheels and handstands from the phenomenal exercise it got. I’m positive I grew trillions of new brain cells that are building new networks even as I type.

Through the many hours that I labored to copy and insert images from Blogging For Books to my blog with the corresponding URL links, and then go through a whole other process with Amazon.com, I probably racked up enough miles for a frequent flier’s trip to Europe, or maybe even Australia. But just as journeying to either destination would require a lot of preparation, so too it was necessary for me to jump through hoops to get everything perfect for publication of my review on Blogging For Books and Amazon.com.

Lesson learned? “Free” doesn’t really mean “free.” Getting a free book required not only writing a review, but having the wherewithall to publish it on 2 other sites besides my own. That is certainly a “no brainer” for someone with the wherewithall. But even though I’m a couple of months shy of my blog’s one-year anniversary on WordPress.com, I still don’t know it all…technologically speaking. I know just enough to publish my posts, and include some pictures. Except…

i did just climb…a “mountain”…so take a hike…alzheimer’s…hugmamma. 😉 

(Note: So now that you know the “behind-the-scenes” story, won’t you read my post “the daughter’s walk”…spokane to nyc and click on “rank my review.” My arthritic back thanks you…as do I!)   

“well done!” comcast

Communication between my friend Sylvia and Mark Casem of Comcast Corp, should be a model for dealings between customers and service providers. In addition to the adage I mentioned in earlier postings of my own Comcast dilemma, “You can get more with honey, than you can with vinegar,” I think it’s safe to say “You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours” is also fitting.

Dear Mr Casem,

I wanted to tell your putting me in touch with Ms Williamson, resulted in today’s visit from a Comcast technician. He was at our house for about an hour and found several problems, which caused the problems with telephone and Internet. He also found we had a very weak signal with the TV

 I have to commend Mr Craig Ralston, for not only his work but his rapport with his customers. He explained all he did and even gave us some education on our systems. He left us with his own business card to call him with any problem in the future. Hopefully that wont be the case.

 I thought you would like to know you have made another Comcast customer happy!

                Yours Truly,…Sylvia

To which Casem replied…

Thanks for the note! I will make sure Mr. Ralston and Ms. Williamson are commended for the job well done.

 

Best regards,

Mark Casem
Comcast Customer Connect

National Customer Operations

that’s it in a nutshell…and i love nuts…hugmamma.  😉

in the spotlight

Did we miss out on something as children? The need to talk or be seen are phenomena which have overtaken our lives. On its face, blogging and reality shows seem like the highest form of narcissism. Why our need to be heard, to be seen? Author Lisa Sabin-Wilson says it best in “WordPress For Dummies.” Blogging is “…a means of expression.” I’d say the same might be true of reality shows.

I was very fortunate to accompany my husband on a recent business trip to Venice. Attending several scheduled events, I was able to watch the President and CEO of the company speak before large assemblies of people. What a performer! Of Norwegian descent and striking at 6’4″, his appearance alone commanded one’s attention. Speaking in accented English, smiles interspersed to lighten the mood, one couldn’t help but be charmed. He seemed unrehearsed, yet he spewed forth facts about the business which boggled my layperson’s mind. Most appealing was his humility in sharing the stage with employees recognized for their longevity with the company, serving in the least skilled to the highest skilled positions. Don’t you just love a boss who doesn’t take all the credit, and hog the limelight? (If I think really hard, I might have had one or two in my corporate career. Hmmm…thinking… thinking. Still thinking.)  And this is a man who rubs elbows with corporate giants, heads of state, European royalty and ambassadors.

In a million years I could not walk about a stage, owning it. I did try in my middle and high school years. In the ’60″s I was the dancing “queen”, doing the “mash-potato” all over campus. I harmonized in an all girls, Beatles look-a-like group; captained the cheer-leading squad; and choreographed theatrical school shows. When I wasn’t entertaining the masses, I was still a “cut-up” before family and friends, mostly friends.

In my own family I am still the “ham.” My daughter’s favorite description of my antics is that I’m “goofy”, loveable, but goofy nonetheless. I’m sure my in-laws would agree. But I pride myself in bringing humor to their lives. Without me my husband’s life would be pretty quiet. I bring a little luster to his life, according to my daughter and mother-in-law.

On the other hand, it’s my husband and daughter who work in front of people all the time. He makes regular speeches in meetings and public forums.  My daughter dances for a living. How much more public can she get? Talk about getting “butterflies” in one’s stomach. They would consume me before I ever made an entrance! Yikes!

So I blog. I blog to express myself as a writer. Therein lies my passion, putting thoughts into words. I will never have “writer’s block”. In fact I sometimes wish the ideas would cease flowing. They rush tumbling over one another trying to be heard. It’s as if I’m sitting encircled by little children, raised hands in my face, clamoring for attention. Calling upon one who begins to speak, only to be interrupted by others too impatient to wait. I have no choice but to give voice to them, these thoughts that are restless, wanting out of my head.

I think we all have a hint of Narcissus in us. A youth who in Greek mythology “fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and was transformed into the narcissus flower.” Did you know that it has a beautifully, pungent fragrance? Perhaps we’re all reincarnations of this heavenly blossom.

are you? I am…hugmamma.