The Paradoxical Dichotomy of a CEO as U.S. President

Jonathan Hua (MBA '17)

   

Recently, we’ve seen an influx of corporate CEOs running for President of the United States. This trend started

with Ross Perot back in 1992, and was continued in 2008 by former Bain Capital chief Mitt Romney. And now, there

are two corporate executives making significant White House bids. Both eccentric billionaire Donald Trump and

former HP CEO Carly Fiorina have been making waves in the Republican Party primary elections and are poised to

be significant contenders for the GOP nomination. But history tells us that Trump and Fiorina are not only

running against their fellow presidential candidates, but also against history. The last successful businessman to be

president was Herbert Hoover, who made a fortune as a mining engineer before serving as America’s 31st president.

He was a remarkable businessman and was incredibly admired as a humanitarian, but his presidency was a complete

disaster. He was brilliant, but was unapproachable and had no political awareness. He proved that being brilliant in

business can make you wealthy, but won’t necessarily make you a good president or even a mediocre one at that. In

the end, his only value in the White House was setting the stage to be an afterthought in the wake of FDRs political

dominance and lasting influence.

 

As the race for the 45th presidency heats up, we have to be weary of the façade that modern day candidates have

shrouded their candidacies in. We live in an age of false political messiahs who thrive on viral media publicity that

captures the attention of the American public. But do corporate executives really have the skills necessary to be the

leader of the free world? In order to answer this question, we need to look beyond spreadsheets and financial

statements to understand that there is a large discrepancy in the skill set required to be a successful CEO and the

president of the United States. America is not a corporation. Since when did people begin to assume that business

acumen directly translated to success in handling the economy? When George W. Bush took office, he was paraded

as the first president with an MBA pedigree. But almost a decade after the Bush administration, the majority of

Americans believe that all current economic problems were derived from Bush’s handling of the 2008 financial

crisis. His lax oversight of the financial sector as well as his decision to mire the U.S. in war debt crippled the U.S.

economy almost beyond repair. The last thing a CEO wants to do is regulate Wall Street. Instead, their focus is to

alleviate taxes and government regulations for their corporations and other business interests. The U.S. presidency

requires political competency, not business acumen. To be fair, these two qualities are not mutually exclusive. But

in the midst of heightening tensions in rapidly deteriorating relations with world powers such as China and Russia,

what America needs is a politically savvy diplomat and devoted public servant, not a politically inexperienced

corporate executive with a very singular agenda.

 

However, I can definitely see the appeal of electing a business leader. Both Trump and Fiorina have extensive

private sector experience, millennial sensibilities and deep pockets and both could conceivably mount a formidable

challenge for the presidency. But there are a number of issues with these qualifications. An obvious one is Trump’s

financial conflict of interest in the corporate sector. He is a career business man who has amassed an empire built

on his personal brand worth billions of dollars. In the White House, Trump would have the immense power to

maneuver the presidency to serve his own brand in ways not possible before. This is a concern because if the 2008

financial crisis taught America anything, it’s that there’s a precarious balance of power between private industry

and government. As president, Trump would have appointment power over many federal agencies and boards whose

actions could prove beneficial to his business empire. Does Trump really want to “make America great again” or is

he really just trying to further the influence of the private sector and the reach of the Trump legacy? Hopefully,

we’ll never have to find out.

 

Fiorina’s appeal lies in her distinction as a former executive who was at one time the most powerful woman in

business. But how will Fiorina perform in a bureaucracy in Washington that is currently mired in a status quo of

dysfunction and polarization? Her tenure in HP was largely characterized by controversy. During her time at HP,

the stock plummeted 55% and she was ultimately fired by the board of directors as a result of her poor performance.

Of course, stock price isn’t the only variable when measuring the effectiveness of a company leader. To her credit,

Fiorina did double the revenues of HP by acquiring Compaq, but this was a move that was wildly unpopular with

her board and it showed. She could not get her own board of directors to support her vision and continued tenure

at the company. And for as brilliant and sharp as Fiorina is, no other company hired her again after her firing. The

presidency is the ultimate test of diplomacy and relationship building. This example highlights Fiorina’s glaring

inability to be persuasive and to work across the proverbial ideological spectrum. And this is an essential quality

for a politician. From the very beginning, President Obama has had to make concessions in order to work with

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is possibly Obama’s biggest critic and adversary.

 

Our government is a messy amalgamation of federalism, republicanism and capitalism that guarantees a

bureaucratic stalemate that will make it difficult to get anything done without a long and tedious struggle. The

complexity and difficulties of running the largest multi-faceted organization in the world is more than enough to

make certain types of CEOs want to pull out their imperfectly coiffed blond comb overs. We need a leader that has

a natural commanding presence and who is able to speak wholeheartedly about sensitive issues without coming off

as disingenuous. Our president needs to be a public servant who can develop a fruitful symbiotic relationship with

the public. What America needs is a leader that can inspire confidence in the American people, not skepticism and

fear.