Would You Hire a Successful Politician To Run Your Business?

Ta-Nehisi Coates and his readers offer some thoughts on whether skills in the business domain translate into skills as a politician or political leader.

I’d say the easiest way to see that the answer is “no” is to consider the reverse scenario. Take some large company that’s in some trouble. Burger King, say. And now imagine you hear that the new CEO of Sears is going to be Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Menino’s a good politician. He’s been mayor since 1993, and the city of Boston has prospered and grown under his leadership. Before that he was on the city council for nine years. I know some Menino critics who thought there was a better option in the last election, but there’s just no denying that in a baseline way he’s been really successful.

But I think it’s obvious that Burger King stock would tank if Menino were announced as the new CEO. What on earth does he know about selling fast-food hamburgers?

By the same token, I don’t think you’d want a brilliant fast-food executive to be mayor of a large city much less president of the United States. Now as it happens, Mitt Romney was a pretty good governor of Massachusetts. People sometimes overrate the political achievement of having been elected governor, forgetting that moderate Republicans also got elected governor of Massachusetts in 1998, 1994, and 1990. The voters liked the dynamic where Democrat supermajorities in the legislature were balanced by the watchful eye of an ideologically moderate Republican. But still, he took over a prosperous and well-governed state and it was still prosperous and well-governed when he left. It’s a fine record but a much less impressive one than his record as a businessman, where he really was a standout pioneer. But since nobody thinks political success is transferable to business, why should we think the reverse?