John F. “Jack” Welch, former chairman and chief executive of General Electric, grilled presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on their economic and business policies on CNBC Wednesday.
The author of “Winning” and “Straight from the Gut,” also offered his own “checklist” for America’s next chief executive.
I’m Successful. Why Would I Want Obama?
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) often treads ideological ground slightly to the left of rival Hillary Clinton — but has also praised President Ronald Reagan for his message of renewal and his bipartisan appeal.
Welch’s question to Barack: “As a businessman, what do you tell the thousands of employees in corporations today — who have good healthcare, pensions and job security, but who could be threatened by lower capital formation — why they should vote for you?”
The Democratic candidate’s response: “The [U.S.] economy is strongest when it’s working for everybody … When people in the bottom and middle do well, everyone does well.”
Barack said he seeks to “create a health care system that doesn’t waste billions of dollars,” as well as shape energy and security policies that garner public trust and peace of mind.
Romney: Empty Promises for Detroit?
Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and organizer of the 2002 Winter Olympics, has real experience in the business world: He led Boston-based private equity group Bain Capital from 1984 to 1999, investing in successful companies like Staples. But in his campaign tour through Michigan, he vowed to save and revive jobs lost from the U.S. auto industry.
Welch’s question to Romney: “A lot of us were discomfited by [Romney’s supposed] promises to bring jobs back to Detroit. We realize there has to be a message of hope, but should there not also be a touch of realism?”
The Republican candidate’s response: “These jobs don’t have to be gone forever. Detroit can remain the center of the world automobile industry — through technology.”
“We’ve underinvested in tech: Hybrid tech came from Japan, battery tech came from a lot of other places … I want to see us invest in tech at the corporate level — and at the governmental level.”
He added, “America needs someone with real experience in the private sector — someone who actually understands why jobs come and go.”
Welch’s Way: The CEO President
Welch offered CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla and Joe Kernan his checklist of traits that America’s president ought to have — the same qualities that make for a good corporate CEO.
Authenticity: “If the leader doesn’t have it, the employees — the citizens — won’t believe in him.” He pointed to Romney’s “pandering” in Michigan and to Hillary Clinton’s much-discussed teary breakdown.
“We debated for a week, on TV in the newspapers,” whether her crying was genuine or a mere publicity ploy. “We shouldn’t even have to wonder. We should know.”
“The Vision Thing“: Taking an ironic phrase from George H.W. Bush, Welch maintained the necessity of detailing a mission. “Where are we going; how do we hget there; and how will it benefit you?” He praised John F. Kennedy’s vow to put an American on the moon by the end of the 1960s as a classic example.
Hiring. Welch said choosing talent is far more difficult for the president than for a business executive — and explained why the corporate model would be more efficient than the political one.
“Say I name you the head of the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. You’re [former Republican EPA chief] Christine Todd Whitman and the people under you say you’re anti-environment. Your employees have been there for years and years — and they have the guns out. And soon you’re wearing a bullet-proof vest.”
Welch maintained that in a corporation, ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not have remained in the post for so long “not doing a good job. You’ve got to move these people out.”