Republicans and Democrats regularly talk about running government
and, specifically the White House, like a business. The notion catches
the eye of a lot of people. But is it valid? Let’s get specific and
narrow the focus for a few minutes. Can President Obama really work as a
Sunday morning’s conversation between Fareed Zakaria and Indra Nooyi,
the Pepsico CEO, unexpectedly took that turn with a question by
ZAKARIA: You think about leadership, what do you think about President Obama as a leader?
NOOYI: I think he’s a remarkable
individual, but let me put this in context, Fareed. Just imagine that
you are the CEO of a company. Just bear with me for a while, while I
talk you through the story. Imagine you are the CEO of a company and
your executive team, half want you to succeed, half want you to fail.
ZAKARIA: Republicans and Democrats.
NOOYI: Yes. And then imagine that your functional team, you can’t hire them without the approval of your executive team.
ZAKARIA: Half of whom want you to fail.
NOOYI: That’s exactly right. Also imagine that every word you say is
debated in the public media every minute of the day. Also remember that
your board of directors is a fragmented group who really cannot get
together to fire the executive team if they don’t tow your line.
ZAKARIA: The American public.
NOOYI: That’s exactly right. That’s the environment in which the
president of the United States is working today. It’s not as if the
president is maintaining a successful country. The president is turning
around a difficult situation.
ZAKARIA: So all things considered, you’d say he’s doing a pretty good job.
That brief discussion of civics by the
“leading businesswoman in the world,” was one of the finest explanations
of the American system I’ve ever heard. That was the vision the
founding fathers created. And it’s a vision, I remind my readers, that
ain’t gonna change.
So the next time you hear someone
opining about the need for business sense in government, recognize that
there’s a real chance that the person doesn’t know what he or she is
talking about. Government leadership, as Nooyi explained, requires a
significantly different set of tools than business leadership.
To add to this pie, remember also that
the ability of an exec to change industries successfully has a very poor
track record. Less than 50% succeed. Oh sure there are exceptions. But
very few in number. Not enough to trust a business leader who thinks he
can change the world of government. So don’t get too enamored of Donald
Trump, Mitt Romney or any other business leader of any party who thinks
he can “fix” government. We’re dealing with what the founding fathers
planned and that’s that. I suspect they knew that this “experiment”
would be very messy. Or as Winston Churchill once suggested,”it has
been said that democracy is the worst form of government . . . except
all the others that have been tried.”
Still later in the show, Zakaria asked
Nooyi whether she ever would go into government after she left Pepsico.
Her astute, rather amusing comment: I plan to be in business quite a few more years.