The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024

If Bush were a CEO, he’d be fired

For years, I’ve been trying to convince diehard Bush fans (the 30 percent that still think he’s the best thing since twist-off beer caps) that he’s the worst president in history.

For years, I’ve been banging my head against a closed door (that’s a metaphor for a Bush supporter’s mind), hoping that the person on the other side would open the door (again, metaphor) and realize that Bush has been a truly horrible president.

Silly me! As it turns out, I’ve been wrong all this time. Bush isn’t the worst president in our country’s history, he’s merely the worst CEO – Ken Lay included.

In the interest of disclosure, I can’t take credit for the reassessment – or even the evaluation. The credit belongs to Warren Hellman, founder and CEO of Hellman & Friedman, a private equity investment firm.

In addition to sitting on the boards of the NASDAQ Stock Market, Levi Strauss & Co. and the Sugar Bowl Corporation, Hellman consults with corporate boards on evaluating their CEOs’ performance.

You might say he helps boards decide when it’s time for a CEO to go bye-bye. According to Hellman, Bush’s time has come.

Hellman published his analysis in a Salon magazine article.

In a nutshell, Hellman says, “If the United States were a company, it would be a troubled one. A disastrous war in Iraq; another war nearly won, now at risk in Afghanistan; massive budget deficits – USA Inc. is beset by many crises.”

Fair enough. No one, except possibly Dick Cheney, believes things are hunky-dory in the United States. The question, then, is to what extent are the company’s, uh, country’s problems Bush’s fault.

Hellman evaluates Bush’s performance on six criteria, the same criteria he uses when advising boards of directors: 1) fiscal responsibility, 2) strategic decisions, 3) execution of strategic decisions, 4) personnel choices, 5) research and development and 6) adherence to the company’s charter and bylaws.

So how did Bush the CEO do? The short answer: “If Bush were the chief executive of a company, he would in all likelihood be given a good pension and quickly replaced.”

How’s $210 million? That’s what Home Depot paid former CEO Robert L. Nardelli, forcing him to resign for failing to turn around the company’s poor stock performance.

I don’t know about you, but I’d pay $210 million dollars to get rid of Bush. Heck, I’d even pay $211 million.

In the first category, “fiscal responsibility,” Hellman criticizes Bush for squandering the surplus he inherited from his predecessor, record deficits, a “skyrocketing” debt service, and a growing trade deficit with China. More importantly, he accuses Bush of “hid[ing] the magnitude of the [company’s] losses.”

Isn’t that what Ken Lay was convicted of?

As for the second category, “strategic decisions,” he faults Bush for “minimiz[ing] the importance of stabilizing Afghanistan, while at the same time choosing to invade Iraq,” adding, “Those choices turned out to be a perfect example of the adage ‘fire, aim, ready’!”

“Not only were those decisions based on faulty intelligence,” he writes, “but Bush also had no business plan for his new endeavor.”

In the third category, “execution of strategic decisions,” Hellman concludes, “Bush has left USA Inc. with no good options as to how to fix the [Iraq] problem. If USA Inc. were a corporation, an effective board would almost certainly not choose to ask the executive who got the company into such dangerous trouble to be the one [to] extricate it; the board would find a new CEO.”

For number four, “personnel decisions,” he writes, “Excellent chief executives make excellent personnel choices; they are willing to admit mistakes and replace the occasional bad personnel choice with alacrity. This has not been the case with our chief executive.”

“Instead,” Hellman says, “Bush stuck too long with his mistakes, remaining stubbornly supportive of inept individuals from Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld…”

As for number five, “Because of the strategic error of invading Iraq, our CEO now finds his company can’t spend money on conducting basic research or rebuilding its physical infrastructure, plus it is drastically shortchanging its educational system.”

In the final category, “adherence to the company’s charter and bylaws,” Hellman chides Bush for “allow[ing] his ideology to subvert the charter and bylaws this country was built on, namely the Constitution.”

So what should the board of directors do?

“When a company is going in the wrong direction, the board of directors has the responsibility to do everything possible to change course and move forward with better direction. […] For the past six years, Congress has abandoned that role,” Hellman says, adding, “If [Congress] were a corporate board of directors, there might well be shareholder lawsuits over how it has neglected its oversight responsibilities.”

The $211 million is starting to look better by the minute.

About the writer:

Prof. George Henson is a lecturer in the Spanish Department at SMU. He can be reached at [email protected].

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