Everyone who hasn’t already made up their mind is currently wondering whether Trump would make a good president. Despite the collective interest in this question, I submit that the election has raised another, equally fundamental question—and one that Trump himself should be even more concerned about: Is Trump a good businessman?
On the one hand, the answer is obvious. He has made billions and billions of dollars, which is billions and billions more than me or most other people. So, from a financial standpoint, the answer is an obvious and resounding yes.
And yet, I submit that the events of this election cycle have made it an important question to ask, if only because presidents have to do more than develop brilliant policies. They have to run what amounts to one of the biggest and most powerful organizations in the world.
So let’s ask the question. Let me simply present the following ten competencies, all of which any business school professor would say everyone who runs any organization must have. Have Trump’s behaviors on the campaign trail suggested he has them? You be the judge:
- Negotiating effectively. The best businesspeople find ways to not only claim value from others but create value that benefits their counterparts as well as themselves. Trump has certainly done the former, but has he done the latter? You be the judge.
- Listening to advisors. The best businesspeople know how to close their mouths and open their ears when trusted advisers speak. Has Trump shown a propensity to listen? Your call.
- Establishing clear roles and responsibilities. The best businesspeople make it crystal-clear what everyone in their organization is supposed to be doing, and how everyone’s role is distinguished from everyone else’s. What, if anything, do the well-documented turf battles in Trump’s organization say about his ability to draw up roles and responsibilities?
- Understanding and growing the customer base. The best businesspeople appeal to the largest and most diverse set group of customers, in this case voters. Has Trump?
- Building a strong financial base. The best businesspeople establish the strongest possible financial foundation for their organization, in this case the most extensive fundraising operation they can. Has Trump done that? You decide.
- Communicating clearly and consistently with the market. The best businesspeople develop a message and stick to it, whatever direction the wind blows or spirit moves. Has Trump been clear and/or consistent in his policy prescriptions?
- Communicating clearly and consistently within the organization. The best businesspeople also deploy their excellent communication skills within their organizations, e.g. by making sure that their employees always know exactly what they’re about to say and do. Has Trump?
- Forming mutually-beneficial partnerships. The best businesspeople identify people who could helpfully support one another, in this case people like Paul Ryan and John McCain. Has Trump effectively partnered with such parties? You be the judge.
- Promoting based on talent. The best businesspeople promote the best people as their closest advisors. They avoid the temptation of nepotism, trusting the people with the best ideas rather than the best name. Has Trump?
- Responding to market data. The best businesspeople make a course correction when the market indicates that things aren’t working. How responsive has Trump been to his poll numbers?
I put these questions to you because it’s important for each of us to answer for ourselves. And I put #10 last because it’s the one about which I personally feel most equivocal, the last few weeks having provided some indication that Trump is charting a course correction.
So what do you think? Is Trump a good businessman? Can he run a big organization, be it a business organization or a big public organization? If he becomes the president of our country, let us all hope so.