Does Trump know busi­ness?

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Brian Gu­nia Ne­go­ti­at­ing ef­fec­tively. Lis­ten­ing to ad­vis­ers. Es­tab­lish­ing clear roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Max­i­miz­ing the cus­tomer base. Build­ing a strong fi­nan­cial base. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing clearly and con­sis­tently with the mar­ket. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing clearly and

Ev­ery­one is ask­ing whether Don­ald Trump would make a good pres­i­dent. De­spite the col­lec­tive in­ter­est in this ques­tion, the elec­tion has raised an­other equally crit­i­cal ques­tion — and one that prob­a­bly mat­ters a great deal more to Mr. Trump him­self (what with his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer and oft-noted Wharton cre­den­tials): Is Mr. Trump a good busi­ness­man?

On the one hand, the an­swer is ob­vi­ous. He has made bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars, which is bil­lions and bil­lions more than most other peo­ple. So from a fi­nan­cial stand­point, the an­swer is an ob­vi­ous and re­sound­ing “yes.”

Yet this hum­ble busi­ness school pro­fes­sor sub­mits that the events of the cur­rent elec­tion have made it im­por­tant to crit­i­cally ex­am­ine Mr. Trump’s busi­ness skills, if only be­cause pres­i­dents have to do a lot more than de­velop bril­liant poli­cies. They also have to run what amounts to one of the big­gest and most pow­er­ful or­ga­ni­za­tions in the world — a task that good busi­ness­peo­ple could pre­sum­ably han­dle bet­ter than bad ones.

So let’s ask the ques­tion. And let me ask it as even-hand­edly as I can, by sim­ply list­ing 10 skills that any busi­ness school pro­fes­sor would in­sist that any ef­fec­tive busi­nessper­son has to have. I’ll then list their po­lit­i­cal equiv­a­lents so you can judge for your­self whether Mr. Trump has demon­strated these skills on the cam­paign trail. Here goes:

1. The best busi­ness­peo­ple find ways to de­vise cre­ative so­lu­tions in ad­di­tion to mak­ing ag­gres­sive claims. In an elec­tion, this could in­volve propos­ing poli­cies that have at least a fight­ing chance of at­tract­ing bi­par­ti­san sup­port (e.g., on ad­mit­ting refugees).

2. The best busi­ness­peo­ple know how to close their mouths and open their ears in the pres­ence of trusted ad­vis­ers. On the cam­paign trial, this might in­volve con­sis­tently adopt­ing or at least con­sid­er­ing the coun­sel of ex­pe­ri­enced po­lit­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als.


The best busi­ness­peo­ple make it crys­tal-clear what ev­ery­one in their or­ga­ni­za­tion is sup­posed to be do­ing and how ev­ery­one’s role dif­fers from ev­ery­one else’s. In a cam­paign, that might in­volve cre­at­ing roles with non-over­lap­ping ti­tles (e.g., cam­paign man­ager or CEO, but not both), mit­i­gat­ing du­pli­ca­tion and turf wars.

4. The best busi­ness­peo­ple ap­peal to the largest and most di­verse group of cus­tomers — in this case, the largest and most di­verse set of vot­ers.

5. The best busi­ness­peo­ple es­tab­lish the strong­est pos­si­ble fi­nan­cial foun­da­tion for their or­ga­ni­za­tion, in this case by fundrais­ing as in­ten­sively as pos­si­ble.


The best busi­ness­peo­ple de­velop a mes­sage and stick to it, what­ever di­rec­tion the wind blows. In pol­i­tics, this might in­volve ar­tic­u­lat­ing a clear po­si­tion on, say, im­mi­gra­tion, then con­sis­tently stick­ing to it. 7.

The best busi­ness­peo­ple also de­ploy their ex­cel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills within their or­ga­ni­za­tions (e.g., by mak­ing sure their em­ploy­ees know what they’re about to do). In pol­i­tics, this might in­volve mak­ing sure staff knows ex­actly what po­si­tions the can­di­date is about to take (e.g., about the Sec­ond Amend­ment and Hil­lary Clin­ton).


The best busi­ness­peo­ple part­ner with oth­ers who­could help­fully scratch their back, in this case peo­ple like Paul Ryan and John McCain.

9. The best busi­ness­peo­ple pro­mote the best peo­ple as their clos­est ad­vis­ers. They avoid the lure of nepo­tism, trust­ing the peo­ple with the best ideas rather than the best names.

10. The best busi­ness­peo­ple make a course cor­rec­tion when the mar­ket be­lies the strat­egy, in this case when polls sug­gest a prob­lem. Has Mr. Trump demon­strated these skills? In the shadow of a loom­ing elec­tion, it’s im­por­tant for all of us to an­swer for our­selves. I list No. 10 last be­cause it’s the one I per­son­ally have the hard­est time an­swer­ing; the past few weeks hav­ing pro­vided some in­di­ca­tion of a course cor­rec­tion (as well as a wob­ble, lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive, on the part of his op­po­nent).

So how would you an­swer? Do Mr. Trump’s ac­tions on the cam­paign trail sug­gest he can run a big or­ga­ni­za­tion, or do they make you won­der how he made the bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars in the first place?

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