While U.S. government officials have been driving bosses out of boardroom windows as it takes over troubled automakers and banks, Gov. Rendell has gone the other way, tapping a private-sector chief executive officer as a watchdog for Pennsylvania's handling of nearly $10 billion in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, a.k.a. stimulus funds.

State government "is an unknown world, for me," said Ronald J. Naples, who retired in 2008 after 28 years as a chief executive, first at Philadelphia's former Hunt Manufacturing Corp., and for 13 years at multinational Quaker Chemical Corp. in Conshohocken.

He'll get to learn fast. Besides serving as the spending program's chief accountability officer, with a salary just a fraction of what he made in his last corporate job, Naples - a Republican backer of Democrat Rendell - is also almost nearly the only business voice on the governor's Stimulus Oversight Commission, whose board he'll head.

With Naples, there's state General Services Secretary James Creedon, who's in charge of actually spending the stimulus dollars, business-lobby leader Gene Barr, electricians' union officer Donald Siegel, state United Way chief Tony Ross - plus no less than eight Pennsylvania politicians and aides, a mixed ticket of Democrats and Republicans, federal and state, each faction with constituents to please.

It's not this group's job - or Naples' - to command where each dollar goes. The stimulus has marked $4 billion for Medicare and other health-care programs, $2.6 billion for school projects, $1.4 billion for roads, trains, and buses, $1.1 billion for job training and relief, hundreds of millions more for housing and energy.

Nor will the group much affect the resulting fights breaking out in the General Assembly over how stimulus spending can be creatively applied to reduce the need for scarce state dollars, leaving other subsidies to live another day.

Naples says his job "is making sure we're accountable for the results. That's the challenge that attracted me."

"We're in a situation where the country has a really big problem," he said. "It's an important time for our leaders to get it right, and to know we're getting it right. What are we doing with the money? What are the results?"

There's already a Web site - recovery.pa.gov

Under fire

What does Naples add to the state's existing spending process and its capacity for self-measurement?

He started in the public sector - as a West Point graduate and an Army artillery officer in Vietnam. "In combat, things go wrong," he said. "There's no excuses. You go and fix them. All the way down the line."

Running a public company, Naples had to balance customers and workers, short-term and long-term goals, while boosting sales and earnings to keep Wall Street analysts and shareholders happy, in the face of growing world competition.

"When I arrived at Quaker, the world was evolving to where we needed to deal with global business," he said, and go beyond the old arrangement of local plants selling directly to local customers in Europe, Asia, or the United States.

"We had to change the way we went after markets, established jobs, set up financial and people reporting," he continued. "So we could deal with General Motors the same in Shanghai as in Detroit.

"We had to learn, and to teach our people, that their knowledge was a company asset. We had to show our people, so they could show the customers, that we were delivering, not just products, but service."

Government spending has its own competing interest groups, political cycles, personal connections - much of it difficult to quantify in managerial terms.

"This will be an interesting process for me," Naples said. "Friends have asked me, 'Why in the world do you want to do this kind of job. You have a good reputation. Why put it at risk?'

"For me, if I have a good reputation, it's there to be spent. It's what's given me the opportunity to do good and important things."

He paused, on the phone from his home in Wynnewood, his wife bustling through the room: "This will be the education of Ron Naples," he said. "Because it really is a different world."

Contact staff writer Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or jdistefano@phillynews.com.