Advice from a job creator: Bring on the optimism, Obama
This CEO of a small business says the most important thing Obama can do is break the cycle of fear with a message of optimism. Fear works on businesses like winter. They freeze hiring.
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My home state of Michigan lived in high anxiety for many years. Only recently did sanity return. The state legislature passed a balanced budget ahead of time this year, rather than in a customarily contentious last-minute debate. Yes, there were painful sacrifices, and Michigan still has a long way to go. But optimism does not return because there is abundance. Optimism returns when there is realistic hope.Skip to next paragraph
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The Michigan model
We see that now in Michigan, where a growing collaboration among state and local government, business, and higher education bodes well. Evidence of thriving entrepreneurship can be found around university towns such as Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, in Detroit’s Tech Town and in myriad coffee shops in population centers.
Our young people are not waiting for the future, they are creating it. At the University of Michigan alone, student-led business organizations like Mpowered, TEDxUofM, Startup Weekend, 1000 Pitches, and many others foster a spirit of youthful excitement that is contagious. Michigan will be an inspiring model for our nation, a turnaround of epic proportions.
In difficult times, people crave visionary leadership. Without it they descend into fear. CEOs fill this role within companies. Presidents fill it within nations. Yet, just when such leadership by the president – joined by congressional leaders – could inspire the optimism that points to prosperity, the United States seems to be running toward economic calamity.
It is time to collaborate at all levels across government, business, and education. America has a tradition of rising to such occasions. Think of World War II, the space race, and the unified national spirit after 9/11. We do well when we pick a common worthy target that isn’t one another.
And there are plenty of worthy – and job creating – goals to team up on: transportation, high-speed rail, space and aviation, energy, technology, medicine, healthful living, education, and information technology. America doesn’t need higher taxes; it needs more taxpayers.
I try to practice a positive vision and teamwork in and outside my company. It’s not only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. In order for Menlo Innovations to succeed, my community, state, and country must succeed.
As a CEO, I volunteer on a wide range of non-profit boards and encourage my staff to do the same. Menlo Innovations partners with a middle school. I bring my business skills to church leadership and support and advise several national agencies. As an employer, Menlo Innovations hires fresh college grads and the jobless, offers well-paid internships, and provides company-paid training.
In short, I actively practice optimism over fear. To break this cycle, the president and leaders on Capitol Hill must do the same.
Richard Sheridan is chief executive officer of Menlo Innovations, a software design firm in Ann Arbor, Mich. You can follow him on Twitter @menloprez.