If you’ve been following the Trump nominees’ confirmation hearings, you have no life. Sorry, just kidding. If you’ve been following the Trump nominees confirmation hearings, you have no doubt noticed that their comments often diverge from the positions Mr. Trump staked out in the campaign. I’m fascinated that the media doesn’t seem to understand this, not even the somewhat more conservative media outlets, like the Wall Street Journal. A front page article in today’s WSJ described these nominees as being on a “collision course” with the POTUS-elect. I’m not surprised the Washington Post and New York Times don’t get this, since having spent a single day in the real business world would be an immediate disqualifier for working at either paper. But, the WSJ should understand the business world a little better than this. Why is it that private enterprise runs so much more efficiently than government? That’s a much longer blog, but the high-level answer is that they’re run by people who know how to hire and manage other people.
Donald Trump is the first business person to become president with no prior government experience. For reasons that baffle me, that seems to worry people. If it worries you, then these confirmation hearings should help quell those fears. Here’s a quick primer in how effective managers build their teams. They go out and find the absolute best and most qualified person for each position, ideally finding someone much smarter than themselves. Effective hiring managers in business put little or no effort into figuring out, a priori, whether the person he or she is hiring agrees with them or not. It doesn’t matter. I’ve sat on numerous company boards of directors and the most effective management teams I have observed are the ones where the CEO not only tolerates, but actively encourages dissenting opinions. In my own partnership, when we discuss new deals we’re contemplating, we always make the more junior people voice their opinions first so that they won’t have their views influenced by what the senior partners are thinking. If that means a deal that’s being championed by a partner dies because a smarter or more insightful junior person had a key insight, that’s a fantastic outcome.
It is apparent from the Trump confirmation hearings that Mr. Trump has hired people in exactly this way. He apparently conducted a very thorough vetting process before he chose his cabinet. Indeed, he spent weeks deciding on a Secretary of State before choosing Rex Tillerson. Do you really think he didn’t ferret out over those many interviews the differences of opinion that Elizabeth Warren got out of him in a 3 hour interview? Of course he did. But, the difference between Mr. Trump and President Obama is that Mr. Trump has run large organizations very effectively and understands the importance of hiring smart, highly qualified people for key senior positions, independent of whether they agree with him or not.
Now, contrast this approach with that used by Mr. Obama. As a community organizer, he had no skills at anything when he came into the most challenging job in the world. And, instead of hiring the most qualified people, independent of their views, he hired sycophants like Ben Rhodes, whose primary accomplishment prior to working for Mr. Obama was winning his fraternity beer bong tournament and John Kerry, who may be a smart guy, but was nothing more than a yes man for the President. Hiring like that leads to disasters like the Iran deal because there’s nobody in the room to disagree with a clueless president. This is what James Mattis referred to in his confirmation hearing this week as the tyranny of consensus. Yet another reason to be excited about the transition that will take place a week from today is that we can finally end the tyranny of consensus.