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Elephants in the room

17 September 2015 By Daniel Indiviglio

Two Republican business superstars running for U.S. president make poor political case studies. Real estate developer Donald Trump and former Hewlett-Packard boss Carly Fiorina bashed each other’s corporate records during the latest presidential debate. The GOP likes to extol the virtues of private-sector experience. These two candidates are hardly backing up the position.

The party considers executive experience important for the executive office. Republicans have relentlessly blamed President Barack Obama’s lack of it for what they consider poor relations with the corporate community.

Who they’re putting forward isn’t an inspiring retort. Trump has rocketed to the top of many polls and Fiorina is emerging victorious from Wednesday night’s three-hour, 11-candidate debate. She noted the four times Trump companies have filed for bankruptcy protection and suggested the mogul recklessly borrowed in a way that could be compared to Uncle Sam’s mountainous debt levels. Trump cited a Yale paper that tagged Fiorina as one of the worst CEOs in history and brought up her disastrous turns running both HP and Lucent.

Both are essentially right. While Trump may have accumulated billions of dollars for himself along the way, he has been less prudent with other people’s money. Fiorina, meanwhile, destroyed oodles of shareholder value by forcefully pushing through HP’s takeover of Compaq in 2002, leaving an iconic American company in an ailing financial condition from which it is still trying to recover. Worse, both have tried to put a positive spin on these obvious failings, suggesting an inability to own up to their shortcomings and take responsibility.

The prominent position of these presidential contenders also raises a more fundamental question about the value of being a CEO when it comes to leading a country. There may be something to be said for a person having been the final stop for the buck. It requires making tough decisions and leading troops, which may inform the job of commanding soldiers, brokering compromise, managing crises, setting domestic and foreign policies and serving as America’s ambassador around the globe.

For it to have any bearing, however, would at least require definitive and proven success in the boardroom. Neither Trump nor Fiorina has exhibited nearly enough. If anything, their business backgrounds look more like liabilities for the White House than assets.



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