It's common meme among (primarily) Republican supporters: "Let's get a successful CEO in office to show us how to efficiently run the government just like that profitable business." Hell, there are candidates who use that "outsider" status to persuade they are the right person for the job. But are they really?
Being the CEO is an entirely different skill set than being a politician and rarely do the twains meet. Fareed Zakaria spoke with Steve Rattner, the so-called "Car Czar" that oversaw the reorganization of the American auto industry. As someone with both public and private sector experience, Rattner had a little insight into that particularly persistent meme:
ZAKARIA: Do you think he should appoint somebody who has real business experience to succeed Larry Summers?
RATTNER: I think it's a little bit of a red herring in the sense that is he very plugged in to the world. He has his Economic Recovery Advisory Board that consists of a number of very distinguished businessmen, including Jeff Immelt and so forth, from General Electric. He reads voraciously.
So, maybe simply -- simply to get rid of this one criticism of him, he could put somebody from the business community in there. But I would say somebody from the business community would find working in the White House and Larry Summers' job an extreme culture shock.
ZAKARIA: What do you mean?
RATTNER: Because you're going from being a CEO, running a company, saying this is what we're going to do, to a very complex organization that operates very much by collaboration, consensus, bringing in opinions from all over the government. It's basically a staff job. It's a very important staff job, but you're working for the president and the other senior staff members.
It's very different from being a CEO. I think it would be a tough adjustment for most CEOs.
ZAKARIA: Would do you it?
RATTNER: Well, I'm not -- I'm not a CEO, and I'm -- I'm selling my book at the moment, but -- so it's not -- not something I'm thinking about..
Here in California, we have two candidates--Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina--specifically using their experience as corporate CEOS to push their candidacies. In Fiorina's case, it's all that much more ridiculous, given that she was essentially pushed out of two executive positions (at Lucent and HP) for her inability to run the companies well.
But in both cases, I think it's a valid question to ask exactly which skills at CEO are transferable to a career in politics and learning how to build consensuses and compromise to knock out legislation.