To new members of the U.S. House of Representatives:
Congratulations, and welcome to your new position. There are many reasons to celebrate: Congress will be more "American" than ever – more like us as a whole, with younger, more female, and more diverse members. The country saw its highest voter turnout in over a hundred years. And, particularly pleasing to me, none of you are retiring CEOs of large corporations. I'm thankful for that.
I know because I am one.
Somewhere along the line, we adopted the illogical notion that experience as a CEO is great "practice" for the job of president of the United States. Keep in mind, however, that privately held larger companies, such as Trump Inc. and even mine, are more like monarchies and certainly nothing like democracies. In business, the CEO rule is complete – a consensus is not a key component to the process and sharing equal power with two other branches is an outrageous concept. Share power? As CEO? Never! Instead, CEOs are neo-kings of sorts, hardly democratic leaders at all, and certainly not in a "practice job" for leadership within a large, balanced democracy. In other words, we're rulers of our own fiefdoms — hardly sound background experience for the leader of a complex democracy.
Worse, CEOs, to some extent, decide on their own oversight and reign supreme on hiring and firing decisions without any confirmation process at all. This is hardly the stuff that makes a good president. We saw this play out when the current president grew weary of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with Matthew Whitaker in an "acting" role. The president, unable to shake the tendencies of a CEO, ignored an existing law that mandates the deputy attorney general (not Whitaker) take on the role, altogether bypassing the Senate confirmation process.
As CEOs, we are free to make high-level team changes, and our instincts often lead us to remove any "conflicts" from our ranks. Sometimes, shake-ups are needed, but they can also backfire, especially when the shift within work culture is dramatic – when done by a president acting like a CEO, it creates pandemonium.
As CEOs, our job is to know which areas of the business are profitable and which areas must be cut back or cut loose. But that line of argument can't apply to government decisions on policy. We can't prioritize the bottom line on health care – we all need access to good-quality, affordable care. We can't decide which bridges and roads need safety inspections and maintenance based on cost accounting. And we can't — or, at least, we shouldn't — pass tax policies that favor one small segment of the population over all else.
The current focused economic boom that the current president praises is a prime example. The president's tax breaks for corporations added jet fuel to a raging economy, increasing the price of stocks, corporate profits, and compensation for CEOs like us – doubling down on the dividends that the economy was already paying the wealthiest among us. But, it does not address the economic reality for the overwhelming majority – paychecks are buying less and less, resulting in Americans getting poorer month by month.
None of this should be surprising. The mission statement of Trump Inc. is something along the lines of "generate more royalty revenue by elevating the brand of the namesake CEO." But, for the last two years, the president has been governing as though this mission statement is a part of his oath of office and seems to have forgotten the part where he swore to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Once a CEO, always a CEO.
As you begin your terms in Congress, please realize that business leadership is not transferable to governance. Congress should be suspicious every time the president quotes his business acumen as justification for a policy decision. All CEOs who are asked to join his cabinet (or, in the case of Matthew Whitaker, given an "acting" cabinet position) should be asked to justify how their experience of running a company is anything other than a liability to the country.
Todd Carmichael is the cofounder and CEO of La Colombe Coffee.