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Should Electing A President Be Like Hiring A CEO?

I’m pleased to welcome back our favorite guest blogger, Ray Link.  Since Ray is originally a “Florida Republican”,  I suspect we have disagreed about previous elections, the value of a golf tan, bass versus trout fishing, and other crucial issues.

But Ray is also a very good businessman experienced in assessing talent, and his approach towards this election makes a lot of sense.

Electing a President is like hiring a CEO

By Ray Link

What is the election of the President of the United States similar too?  To me it is simple: we are hiring the CEO of our country with a guaranteed four year package with lots of perks.  Since we cannot fire him for four years, we must do our best to make an informed choice.   If you look at it as hiring a CEO of a very large international corporation the process is easier to understand and judge.  It also eliminates a lot of the “political garbage” associated with the existing process and forces one to look at what really matters.

Years ago I was fortunate to have been a chief financial officer at different times under two very strong and very smart CEO’s.  Both hired me as their CFO yet I did not have the ideal experience to be the CFO of their company.  Both said that they valued talent and chemistry over experience and that many people who have 20 or more years of experience have in fact 1 year of experience replicated 20 times.  They both believed that if you hire smart, energetic people they will “figure it out” and do well over time.  These CEO’s looked at the total package which includes academic credentials, communication skills, decision making skills, ability to cope with change, demonstrated leadership and relevant experience.

Let’s take that view of the presidential election where we have John McCain, age 72,  with 21 years of Senate experience, a war veteran, and a graduate of the Naval academy versus Barack Obama, age 47, with 4 years Senate experience, no military experience and a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School.  Which person would be hired to run a major international corporation? 

Let’s probe educational background first.  McCain graduated 894 out of 899 in his class at the Naval Academy. Obama was the president of Harvard Law Review and graduated in the top 5% of his class.  Both went to excellent schools but only Obama excelled.  Edge: Obama.

Next let’s look at decision-making ability.  So far both candidates have made only one important decision to date as a candidate – their selection of a VP running mate. McCain chose a 44 year old who has been the Governor of Alaska for 18 months and before that was a mayor of a town of 7,000.  She has a bachelor degree in communications from Idaho, a tier 3 rated school. Obama chose a 30 year veteran of the Senate who has a law degree from Delaware and an undergraduate degree from Syracuse, both top notch programs.  I found it interesting that no one grumbled over Biden’s selection or his qualifications, yet there was a huge out cry over the selection of Palin.  Edge: Obama.

Next let’s look at communication skills.  Both men are Senators and have extensive public speaking experience and both have authored a book (1 for McCain, 2 for Obama).  Obama has drawn huge crowds worldwide to hear him speak and both of his books were a huge success earning him millions in royalties.  McCain on the other hand is soft spoken and at best a marginal orator and his book earned him just a fraction of the sales compared with Obama’s books.  Edge: Obama.

Now let’s turn to how the candidates adapt to new technologies which is one way to see how they can handle a changing environment deal with issues of the 21st century.  In one corner is John McCain who does not know how to log onto a computer or use email.  This would be a non-starter for any corporate executive.  In the other corner is Obama who is text messaging his supporters daily and a frequent user of the internet.  Edge: Obama.

Leadership skills are clearly another area of extreme importance and one that is hard to quantify and subject to great debate.  McCain has the benefit of rigorous military training, acting as a leader during war time and showing bravery under extreme duress as a prisoner of war.  Obama has demonstrated leadership as a community organizer and in speeches addressing issues ranging from race relations to the war in Iraq.  McCain has shown leadership at times in the Senate by crossing the aisle for important legislation but at other times has acted as a maverick thwarting his own party.  Edge to McCain.

Lastly let’s address experience. More is usually better, but our history is marked with some of our best presidents entering the White House as either young men (Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt, and Clinton) or with limited experience (Lincoln – served only one term as a US Congressman) and some of our worst leaders had textbook resumes (such as Nixon and Grant).   The edge clearly goes to McCain as his 25 more years on the planet plus the military and long tenure in Washington dwarfs Obama’s experience.  If experience were the sole criteria we should nominate Dick Cheney, but luckily we haven’t as we looked to other factors.

A lingering question is do we really want to elect someone who would be 80 by the end of their second term?  Looking again to the corporate world, virtually all major U.S. international companies have an age limit for their CEOs and most are 70 or less.  There are exceptions to every rule such as the Warren Buffets and Sumner Redstones of the world, but companies such as General Electric, IBM, Goldman Sachs, and Exxon Mobil all have mandatory age limits for the CEO.

As a 30 plus year registered Republican this is an easy call for me.  I would hire Obama in a nanosecond over McCain.  He is smarter, more articulate, inspirational, has exceptional academic credentials, has demonstrated leadership and good decision-making, and has enough relevant experience for the job. I am betting he is smart enough to “figure it out” pretty quickly once elected.

Ray Link has an MBA from the Wharton School and is CFO of FEI Company, the world’s leader in electron microscopes.  He is a former city councilman from Florida and a 30 year member of the Republican Party.

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One Response to Should Electing A President Be Like Hiring A CEO?

  1. Johne37179 says:

    What is missed in this analysis is that USNA is one of very few schools that is actually a school that teaches leadership as part of its mission. This analysis also misses the fact that McCain has substantial experience in a CEO (CO) position as the Commanding Officer of the largest squadron in the navy. In that capacity he had a large organization with over billion dollars in assets that he operated and was held accountable for. Obama has never been in a position of being the leader with operational accountability.

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