Thursday 15 September 2016

My Top 5 plus 1 Picks for US President

Jeffrey Immelt. Photo (c) Eric Piermont / AFP / Getty Images, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

Like almost everyone I know, I find it impossible to be inspired or confident by the choice of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as presidential nominees this year.

Rather than dwell on these two candidates (as I have in many other posts), I’d rather start with a clean slate and brainstorm who I would be willing to vote for.

What am I looking for in a President?

·       At least 30 years of clear-headed experience and achievement, ideally spanning both the private and public sectors;
·       A rational, post-ideological, non-partisan approach towards governance;
·       The ability to analyse root causes and effects, and frame complex issues into a manageable structure;
·       Someone combining systems thinking with real leadership in the real world, not an ivory tower or an ideological wet dream (I’m thinking of you here, Ted Cruz);
·       The ability to delegate and manage teams in a complex operating environment;
·       The ability to make hard decisions;
·       Health and stamina: Able to work long hours under pressure;
·       A strong sense of personal ethics;
·       Ideally, a self-made man or woman, rather than someone of inherited wealth;
·       A commitment to serving the greater good while (a) upholding the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (b) ensuring that minority interests are protected;
·       The ability to work across party lines;
·       An internationalist agenda; a willingness to work with international organisations and allies in a meaningful and realistic manner;
·       A skepticism of easy slogans and sound bytes; an understanding that there are no easy solutions (or at least, few that are sustainable), and that complex solutions demand hard work, good planning and real sacrifice;
·       Knowledge of at least one foreign language and some international experience;
·       Capability to set objectives and monitor results;
·       A strong knowledge of history (and reality).

Top 5 Picks

So here is my pick, in order of preference.

1. Jeffrey Immelt
CEO of General Electric. If there is one person who knows how the American and global economy works across all sectors, including manufacturing, finance and services, it’s Jeff Immelt. Incredible line experience in the private sector. Incredible project management skills. Experience in managing teams in the most complex operating environments possible. By far the strongest, multi-sectoral international experience of any candidate: GE is working in over 170 countries. Critically aware of the need for innovation and competitiveness, including the need to develop and retain brilliant scientists, investors, and salespeople. Vast finance experience. Vast experience in complex turn-around management in complex competitive situations, which is exactly what America needs right now. Vast operational experience in value curve migration and new technology integration. He is more humble than his predecessor, “Neutron Jack” Welch. Although there has been a lot of turbulence at GE, this reflects the changing economy and multiple business cycles rather than poor leadership. The only negative point is that he has no public sector experience in the United States. But he certainly knows how government works, at all levels (Federal, State, Local). And he has worked with public sector officials of both parties for over 30 years now. I would vote for Immelt immediately and unreservedly, assuming he follows a centrist platform.

2. Michael Bloomberg
Former Mayor of New York City; founder of Bloomberg LLC. A real innovator; a very accomplished track record in New York City. A strong mix of private and public sector experience, although the latter is at the municipal, not the national level. Then again, it’s New York City. Hard to think of a more difficult global city to manage in the United States today. An internationalist and realist. A financial engineer who can hopefully find ways to deal with America’s burgeoning public debt. I would vote for Bloomberg immediately and unreservedly. I’d love to see him remodeling the Oval Office into a bullpen. Or just relocating where he does business. The only reason he’s second on this list is his age.

3. John Kerry
Decorated war veteran. Senator from Massachussets. Secretary of State. One of the most level-headed public servants America has, even if he can’t always express himself quite so well. This is someone who has literally bled for America. He knows how the system works at the state and federal level. An added bonus is his international background. One issue against him is his lack of financial / economics experience. A second issue is whether he can say no at the right time. He ran against George W. Bush in 2004 and lost, but continued in public service. He would be a safe pair of hands, but would need strong backstopping at Treasury and Commerce, and should not be beholden to Democratic party interests.

4. Colin Powell
Soldier, working his way up to 4* General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration. His greatest failure is his acceptance of the Iraqi WMD fiction. I believe he was bamboozled, and I believe he will not make the same mistake twice. An inspirational figure: a minority who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to the highest offices in America by virtue of service. Only two issues against him: (a) lack of financial and economics sector experience, and (b) possibly not willing to rock the boat too much. Other than these points, this is a vastly superior candidate to anyone currently in the race.

5. Bill Gates
Founder of Microsoft, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After co-writing the operating system that everyone loves to hate, Bill Gates has spent 20 years donating his fortune to doing very beneficial policy- and science-based public service through his Foundation. My one worry is that he has no line management experience in the public sector, and would probably find this exasperating. He would also probably have difficulty running a campaign and relating to at least 50% of voters. But it’s difficult to think of a more intelligent systems thinker and futurist with a real track record of significant scale.

No Female Candidates
My one regret here is that I haven’t been able to identify any female candidates for President with equivalent seniority, ethics and experience. Anne-Marie Slaughter would be a strong choice, but she does not have the seniority and breadth of experience that the others on this list do. Carly Fiorina and Meg Ryan turned out to be less than stellar. Probably, I don’t know enough others. Any suggestions in this area would be very welcome.

Plus one Wild Card

Bruce Springsteen
I know. You’re probably thinking WTF!? But think about it. He’s 66 years old, and he still plays 4 hour live gigs on tour. He probably knows more about the working class and the average American than anyone else on this list. He’s pulled himself up by his bootstraps and has been composing and singing inspiring music for nearly 50 years now. He’s authentic. He’s artistically and financially successful. He’s been in every single US state and all over the world. We wouldn't have to live through any more navy blue suits and red ties and teleprompters. Sure, he has no public sector experience. He would need a really strong executive team to get him through the complex stuff. But he has great instincts and ethics. This is probably one guy you could trust not to lie to you on the campaign trail, or anywhere else. The only downside of electing him is that the E-Street Band would have to stop playing. If you gave me the choice of The Boss on November 8th, I would vote for him over Hillary or Donald immediately.

 See you on November 8th. 

(c) Philip Ammerman, 2016

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