Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Cover Story

Does America need a CEO in the Oval Office?

Mitt Romney has been both vaunted and vilified for his business background. Here's how running a corporation really compares to running a country. 

By Alan M. WebberCorrespondent / February 22, 2012

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a Jan. 25 event in Miami. This is the cover story in the Feb. 20 weekly edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

Brian Snyder/Reuters

Enlarge

San Francisco

Does the corner office prepare you for the Oval Office?

Skip to next paragraph

It's a central question of the 2012 Republican primary – and will probably remain so through the general election, if Mitt Romney hangs on to become the nominee. Mr. Romney, of course, says, yes, being a chief executive officer does prepare you to be president. So did Steve Forbes, Ross Perot, and before that, Lee Iacocca.

But a surging Rick Santorum and a defiant Newt Gingrich have a different view, at least when it comes to the former head of a particular venture capital firm, and President Obama will no doubt borrow some of their acidic lines and produce a few of his own, if an Obama-Romney matchup emerges later this year.

Yet America has no definitive answer to the question. As a country, it has had ex-generals as president, former governors, senators, an actor (Ronald Reagan), a onetime haberdasher (Harry Truman), a former tailor (Andrew Johnson) – even a hangman (Grover Cleveland, as a local sheriff, personally executed two men at the gallows). True, Herbert Hoover was a mining executive early in his career, and George W. Bush was the first president with an MBA.

But there has never been an American president who was a pure business executive or CEO, at least in the modern sense of the title. So perhaps it's time for a closer look at the proposition that running a company is a lot like running the country. What qualities would a chief executive bring to the job – and would they be a help or a hindrance?

First, some background. Back in 1979 when I was working in Washington, D.C., as a special assistant to the secretary of Transportation, I got a chance to see a business legend – and almost presidential candidate – up close and personal.

Congress had just bailed out Chrysler (the first time) using a package of loan guarantees, but the combination of an OPEC-induced oil crisis and inexpensive, well-made, fuel-efficient Japanese cars was threatening to swamp Detroit. Then-President Carter tasked my boss to go to Detroit, meet with the heads of the Big Three auto-makers, and come up with a package of programs and policies that could ease the economic pain that was afflicting the industrial Midwest.

Permissions

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!