Trump touted him­self as CEO — now he’s be­ing judged as one

The Washington Post Sunday - - TAKING STOCK - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR jena.mcgre­gor@wash­post.com

On the cam­paign trail, Don­ald Trump never shied away from tout­ing his busi­ness skills, run­ning as the out­sider whose sup­posed man­age­ment acu­men would bring ex­ec­u­tive sen­si­bil­i­ties to Wash­ing­ton. In his Repub­li­can convention speech, he lauded his deal­mak­ing prow­ess, promis­ing “to make our coun­try rich again.” Dur­ing a cam­paign town hall, he said he had “great man­age­ment tal­ents, great man­age­ment skills.” He even bragged to the New York Times: “In the­ory I could run my busi­ness per­fectly and then run the coun­try per­fectly.”

As a re­sult, one of the most pop­u­lar gen­res for po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness news and op-ed writ­ers has been the Trump-as-CEO com­par­i­son. “Case Study in Chaos: How Man­age­ment Ex­perts Grade a Trump White House,” the New York Times ex­am­ined. “Trump finds that CEOas-pres­i­dent isn’t al­ways a nat­u­ral fit,” the AP wrote. How­ever much his­to­ri­ans and man­age­ment ex­perts re­mind us that the gov­ern­ment is not a busi­ness — and can’t be run like one — Trump’s in­sis­tence on tout­ing his back­ground has in­vited in­evitable com­par­isons.

Now, af­ter four months in of­fice and fol­low­ing a stun­ning week of up­heaval and self-in­flicted crises in the White House, those com­par­isons are be­ing taken to their log­i­cal next step. Not one but two pub­li­ca­tions asked whether the CEO pres­i­dent was per­form­ing in a way that should let him keep the cor­ner of­fice.

The New Yorker’s John Cas­sidy came first, sug­gest­ing Tues­day that “If Don­ald Trump Were a CEO, He’d Prob­a­bly be Fired To­day.” The analo­gies were all too easy to make, imag­in­ing the pres­i­dent as run­ning USA, Inc.

“If Trump were the chief ex­ec­u­tive of a pub­lic com­pany, the firm’s nonex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors prob­a­bly would have been hud­dled in a cri­sis meet­ing on Tues­day morn­ing, de­cid­ing whether to is­sue him a pink slip,” Cas­sidy wrote. “It was bad enough when, this time last week, he fired one of the com­pany’s most se­nior com­pli­ance em­ploy­ees, James Comey, and then went on tele­vi­sion and con­tra­dicted the of­fi­cial ver­sion of the dis­missal.”

Then there was Bloomberg Busi­ness­week’s cover on Thurs­day, where Bloomberg News ed­i­tor in chief John Mick­leth­wait wrote the story that asked: “If Amer­ica were a com­pany, would you keep this CEO?” Other than a few con­ces­sions — the Neil M. Gor­such Supreme Court ap­point­ment, a fo­cus on dereg­u­la­tion — Mick­leth­wait ticked through the blun­ders, point­edly show­ing how less con­tro­ver­sial be­hav­ior by a CEO has met with swift reprisal.

On re­ports Trump shared clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence with the Rus­sians: “Any busi­ness chief who in­vited a com­peti­tor into the board­room and then dis­closed sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion would be in peril,” Mick­leth­wait wrote, not­ing that Ar­conic chief ex­ec­u­tive Klaus Kle­in­feld just lost his job sim­ply over an unau­tho­rized hos­tile let­ter to an in­vestor. On Trump hir­ing his daugh­ter and son-in-law as top ad­vis­ers: “Ap­point­ing in­ex­pe­ri­enced rel­a­tives to im­por­tant po­si­tions is not nor­mally seen as good cor­po­rate gov­er­nance.” And on why a na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser hung around for weeks even af­ter the White House knew he’d lied to the vice pres­i­dent: “Any board would want an ex­pla­na­tion for that de­lay,” Mick­leth­wait wrote.

In other words, the CEO-as-pres­i­dent anal­ogy is not wear­ing well. In to­day’s busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, run­ning a pub­lic com­pany is a 24/7 job that re­quires con­stant progress on one’s agenda, a well-honed abil­ity to re­cruit and re­tain tal­ented peo­ple in the job, and a finely tuned, care­fully crafted com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy that has a com­pany of thou­sands speak­ing on the same mes­sage.

Yet Trump has lit­tle to show in terms of strate­gic achieve­ments, is be­hind in nam­ing per­son­nel to key jobs and isn’t on the same page as his com­mu­ni­ca­tions team. If a CEO were to make pub­lic claims that were patently false — and then not cor­rect them im­me­di­ately with an apol­ogy — most boards would show him the door. And rather than hav­ing the kind of ef­fi­cient, or­derly, pro­fes­sional staff that con­sti­tutes the se­nior ex­ec­u­tive teams at most well-run com­pa­nies, the West Wing has been de­picted as a chaotic, knives-out, leaky place ex­hausted by the tu­mult and un­nerved about their stand­ing with their boss.

The prob­lem Trump brought on him­self is that he gave peo­ple a dif­fer­ent stan­dard — and a very high one — to hold him against.

As Mick­leth­wait put it: “Out of all the ways in which Trump might want to be mea­sured, judg­ing him as a chief ex­ec­u­tive would seem to be the fairest to him. For­get about ide­ol­ogy, his po­lit­i­cal agenda or whether you voted for him; just judge him on whether he has been a com­pe­tent ex­ec­u­tive. Would you want to leave him in charge? Or would you be call­ing an emer­gency board meet­ing?”

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Trump has strug­gled to per­form ex­ec­u­tive du­ties, such as nam­ing per­son­nel to key jobs.

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