Early in Donald Trump's time on NBC's The Apprentice, I wrote a column for The New York Times wondering why the network had cast someone with such a spotty business record (especially from the perspective of his casino shareholders) in the role of successful business tycoon. Mr. Trump called me the day the piece ran and pointed out that it was pretty rich for me to call him a failure when I was the one working at a (expletive) newspaper.

I've been reminded of that conversation watching Mr. Trump and Carly Fiorina attack each other's business records in recent weeks. On this issue, if on little else, both candidates are absolutely correct: The other's business record shouldn't inspire confidence among voters.

Advertisement

Mr. Trump has made a lot of money as a charismatic real estate promoter, but he failed at the casino and lodging business and boasts that others who invested in him didn't fare well, even when he did. Ms. Fiorina didn't do a good job of running Hewlett-Packard and has shown little willingness to acknowledge that fact and learn from her mistakes. It was clear to many at the time that betting Hewlett-Packard's future on a pricey merger with Compaq, the computer maker, was a doomed strategy.

I agree with the Trump-Fiorina premise that a successful stint as the CEO of a global company is a compelling credential for a presidential candidate. I just wish we had someone in the race who matched that description.

There have been a number of presidents with business backgrounds, including Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and both Bush presidents, who admittedly don't stand out among the all-time greats. We've had successful business leaders make serious runs for the office, including Mitt Romney and Ross Perot. But no one who has been the successful CEO of a major publicly-traded multinational corporation has gone on to be president.

Criticism of past business leaders in politics has centered on the incompatibility between the insular world you rule when you run your own business and the consensus-driven, diplomacy-requiring realm of politics. But being CEO of a large company that is owned by shareholders (a key distinction), and involved in different industries and geographic markets, is an inherently political job, demanding many of the same skills the White House requires. It is more akin to being president than to being the dictator of a business you founded and own.

So allow me to nominate Bob Iger, the chairman and CEO of Disney, for your consideration. First, think of the job he's held since 2006. Disney, like the country as a whole, is a fabled entity with a strong identity and story about itself that Mr. Iger is merely entrusted with for a time, before he passes it on to future generations. As an important player in the sports, retail, technology, travel, news and entertainment businesses with operations in dozens of countries, Mr. Iger is forced to set a long-term strategic vision, communicate it effectively, manage complexity and navigate daily between competing interest groups that include shareholders, customers, employees, regulators in a variety of industries and foreign governments.

Then look at how he has performed in the job. Since he took over Disney in 2005, the company's stock price has nearly quadrupled. Instead of resting on Disney's considerable laurels, Mr. Iger reinvigorated the company with a series of bold acquisitions: Pixar, Marvel and LucasFilm. Each one of those deals enhanced Disney's bottom line and required deft diplomacy to pull off; not everyone could have persuaded Steve Jobs, Isaac Perlmutter and George Lucas to let go of their prized possessions. Even more remarkable: Most of the talent that came over to Disney with these companies continues to thrive.

Clearly this is a leader who can get people from different factions and cultures to adapt to change and move forward together under a common vision. Unlike his predecessor, Michael Eisner, Mr. Iger keeps a relatively low profile, allowing his talent and stories to take center stage. We'll know by the end of the year whether he's wrecked or resurrected the Star Wars franchise, but assuming it's the latter, he'd have my vote for president any day.

And if you aren't moved by my nomination from the Magic Kingdom, here are a few mentioned by my colleagues: Jamie Dimon (Chase), Ginni Rometty (IBM) and Mark Zuckerberg (sorry, he's still too young, absent a constitutional amendment).

But who are we kidding? These people, like most successful people outside politics, have no appetite to do what Mr. Trump and Ms. Fiorina relish: spouting off the most outrageous things to attract attention and to pander to idiosyncratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

So I am forced to downgrade my own expectations. Let's nominate Mr. Iger to be the next president's chief of staff.

Andrés Martinez writes the Trade Winds column for Zócalo Public Square, where he is editorial director. He is also professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. His email is andres@zocalopublicsquare.org.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement