Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why CEOs Are Not the Best Political Candidates

Two wealthy former CEOs are running for political office here in California: Meg Whitman (formerly of eBay) and Carly Fiorina (formerly of HP). They are both using the fact that they ran companies and were successful in business as evidence that they will be able to be successful politicians, but this is definitely not the case.

First of all, corporations are not run as democracies. Yes, there are varying levels of consensus that are built and people play "politics", but at the end of the day, the CEO is the boss and has total power over those beneath her in the organizational hierarchy. Corporations are more like dictatorships. CEOs don't have to negotiate and compromise. They can listen to everyone's opinions and then make the decisions. This does not prepare anyone for the political process at all. And I think one thing all can agree on is that we don't want this country run like a dictatorship!

Secondly, the goal of a CEO above all else is to make the company successful. A good CEO cares about the people of the company, but it's really because those people contribute to achieving the goals of the organization. The mindset of a CEO has to be to consider business goals first, people second. Leaving aside employee safety, which absolutely should be the top priority, to illustrate what I mean, a business leader should work to keep employees engaged, motivated and, therefore, productive. However, business leaders should not feel obligated to keep someone employed even if they are doing a bad job because that's better for the employee.

On the other hand, the goal of an elected official as part of our representative democracy is to represent the people who have elected him or her. Being a CEO does not prepare anyone for this role, because they think of people as an important means to an end. And I am not saying this is a bad thing! Business leaders have to think this way, but I sure don't want political leaders to. I want political leaders to represent their entire constituency, from CEOs to those struggling in poverty.

I would much rather be represented by an experienced politician, who understands the legal system, knows how to navigate the political process, and above all has demonstrated commitment and passion for representing "we the people" in this representative democracy: people like Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.


ElisaC said...

Interesting take. I think you should think of a *third* reason. Everything is better in threes.

Cristina said...

Well, I suppose I could revise my last paragraph to be a third reason. CEOs spend every waking hour consumed by their job. This does not leave much time for interest or education in politics except for those issues that have an impact on the company's success, issues like corporate taxes or tort reform or regulatory environment. Meg Whitman's and Carly Fiorina's poor voting record can be seen as evidence of this.