CEOs running for office may not have the right background

November 23, 2009 — by Christine Tseng

California’s 2010 elections for political office have once again produced some interesting candidates to consider. This time, besides lawyers and mayors, there have been CEOs moving toward the ticket, namely, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman for governor and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina for senator.

Currently, California is undergoing one of the worst budget crises in America, having $66 billion in debt, with Arnold Schwarzenegger receiving a lot of the blame. This is a 19.3 percent increase from 2008, according to the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission (CDIAC) . It is also almost twice the amount California had under former recalled governor Gray Davis, which was $34 billion. Although Schwarzenegger promised to “reform our education system to ensure every California school is given the tools it needs to provide every child with an A+ education,” California has 97 failing school districts, the leading number in the country.

Clearly, a new leader is needed to solve these problems. CEOs, however, may not be good choices for political office despite their successes in the corporate world. Running a business and making decisions for a state are two very different things, and having the experience of one does not ensure talent in the other.

The candidates themselves also raise questions about their ability. Whitman, though skilled in running a business, lacks the knowledge for being a politician. She has never studied law, has no experience in lawmaking and will be hopelessly lost when confronted with the issues of state. She didn’t even vote for much of her adult life.

Fiorina isn’t the best in the bunch, either. Under her watch, HP’s stock fell over 60 percent from $52 before she started to $21 when she left. She had to be forced out of her job and was fired by the company’s board. With the kind of management skills that she displayed at HP, the chances of her successfully helping to run a huge state like California seem low, even after the standard our Terminator has established.

Most successful politicians and leaders have been lawyers, and for a reason. A lawyer has studied the law to a great extent and has the knowledge to make educated decisions and not fall into the traps of older politicians. Also, because they have studied past cases and decisions, they have the experience to make wise choices for the benefit of the state.

One could almost think of the election of a CEO to political office as analogous to a substitute teacher taking over for a full-time teacher. Although they can go through the motions, they are not as familiar with the material that established teachers are.

As Winston Churchill once put it, “Politics is almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous.” Though CEOs are skilled at business and organization, they lack the other skills and the experience required to successfully fight in the battle of running a state.

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