How Donald Trump, as a career businessman, is treating the electoral process as an interview process to become the CEO of the Ultimate Company by sketching out bullet points with vague details while making outrageous comments to show he’s truly a “change agent”.
February 18, 2016
Donald’s Trump’s run for the US Presidency has raised many issues: the latent racism, sexism and xenophobia laden in his many outrageous and deliberately provocative comments; the disgust and anger at the Establishment of the people supporting him; the complete failure of the self-same Establishment to predict his remarkable popularity.
In all this, a key element of Trump’s approach (and appeal) has not as widely been discussed. And that stripped of the racism, xenophobia, and sexism, his rhetoric is very similar to an aggressive CEO wanting to take a company in a new direction: questioning fundamental assumptions and sacred cows; stem losses and exit bad deals; increase profits by increasing efficiency, organic growth and acquisitions; and improve the brand of the company and overall market value.
When a business leader interviews for a C-Level position of a company from outside that company, they don’t necessarily go into great details of how they would steer the company. They would sketch out high level bullet points of the key problems they see requiring solving, goals to achieve with some of the how sketched out in varying degrees of detail. A lot of the hiring decision really depends on past reputation (and networking with Board members) since everyone understands efficiency of execution is always tempered by reality and has to be constantly adjusted. Simply speaking, a CEO is hired by the Board at some level by trust that their skills, experience and ability to adapt are a good match for the company.
A CEO would be expected to come in and with some close advisors, assess the situation first hand, draw up a roadmap, fire and make significant management changes and put trusted advisors in place to execute said roadmap, adjusting this along the way. They would quickly exit from unprofitable ventures or where the payoff is not apparent in the medium term. They would focus on the low hanging fruit first while putting investments in those likely to have greater return. The reputation and personality of a CEO has a lot to do with getting deals to close (eg how Steve Jobs could do it).
Indeed, the above are similar to what any President does. The differences are:
1. Trump explicitly sees the US as a vast company that the President is a CEO of, more so than any other in the past.
2. He would essentially be an outside hire and not someone within the Executive ranks (i.e. the Establishment or Political class) and thus not beholden to anyone inside. (Witness his – true – schtick that he’s not taking money from any special-interests).
3. He is not afraid to challenge the status quo as a change agent (another business term). What others see as racism, sexism, xenophobia, he sees as straight talk that challenge ingrained “political correctness” of entrenched interests that’s holding the company (US) from stopping the bleeding and putting it on a path to recovery. (According to one theory he’s possibly exaggerating his hostility to immigrants and Muslims as part of a tactic to take the focus away from his liberal past on other matters for the moment).
4. He can claim to be a business expert at deal making, knowing when to push, when to listen, when to fold. His negotiations with other constituents domestic and foreign would be on principles of basic deal making: what are the positions, payoffs and leverage, with ideology taking a back seat. (Hence his non-interventionist stance on Syria for example. It’s a bad deal for the US to further intervene. Exit and let someone else take care of it. With China, Mexico etc. he sees “bad deals” and vows to renegotiate terms.)
5. Trump is brash, bold, unapologetically narcissistic – a throwback to those tough cigar-chomping blustering Titans of Industry who say what they mean and mean what they say. And being removed from ideology and only committed to the bottom line and not too worried about upsetting people. (Witness some of his outrageous pronouncements).
6. As CEO, he sees a primary role as a cheerleader, someone whose job is to promote the company to its shareholders and key constituents while also projecting an aura that commands awe. In this, a certain tough guy, unabashedly opulent and luxurious image is part of this aura.
So Trump’s pitch is this: the US economy is suffering because there’re too many jobs being outsourced, too many undocumented immigrants and an incompetent establishment who don’t know the first thing about business deal making or creating jobs. Meanwhile US security is under threat because the same incompetent establishment doesn’t focus on key threats internal and extenal and refuses to make deals with those who can help in these key threats, instead playing a game with unknown payoffs; or make terrible deals with bad payoffs.
Trump is going to change all that by ignoring any sacred beliefs (humanitarian attitude towards immigrants, Muslims, torture etc), and by bringing in a technocratic team shake the status quo to achieve more jobs, more security etc.
He believes the electorate should simply believe him because he is a great deal maker, successful leader of a large enterprise and the President’s job needs that.
The reality of course is that the US and the World doesn’t work like the business world does. And there are too many entrenched interests to allow the flexibility and unchallenged power he seeks. The Presidency is still someways removed from Imperial Rome.
Yet Trump is pursuing this like the only way he knows how: as a business leader, with the instincts honed over years of negotiating deals with other tough guys, winning some, losing some and running a business congloromate.
And a good fraction of the electorate so far, who think like shareholders that the US is a failing brand in need of a CEO from outside the Executive class to right it, seem to support his candidature without necessarily supporting all his pronouncements.
Yet as Trump ups the ante week-after-week by making more and more outrageous statements – in his effort either to differentiate himself further from the field; make news; or be seen as an ultimate tough guy – he’s increasing his chances to be seen more as a unhinged crank than a crafty business leader to even his moderate supporters.