May 11, 2002


And don't get me started on whether anyone learns anything at Harvard Business School (ExPatPundit, 5/11/02)
Glenn Reynolds links to Orrin's post (see below), and doesn't seem to disagree. I do disagree, for two reasons.

First, Bush's fecklessness at actually conducting business operations is legendary. His official bio states that he "[began] his career in the oil and gas business in Midland in 1975, working in the energy industry until 1986." Here are the unmentioned details: He starts Arbusto Energy around 1977, and it nearly fails, and it's then bought by Spectrum 7 Energy and Bush is made CEO, and that nearly fails, and then that's bought by Harken Energy and Bush is relieved of day-to-day management role and becomes a director, and that nearly fails. (And the next one caught on fire, fell on its side, and then sank into the swamp. But the fourth castle...the fourth one stayed up!) By now it's 1986 and Bush retires from the world of business. This is evidence that he learned a culture for getting things done?

Second, Orrin's key point is that Bush's experience gave him insight into running a "modern bureaucratic corporation." But I don't think any of these businesses resembled a modern bureaucratic corporation, at least in the sense of being an organization of substantial size. I have no clue as to how large Arbusto or Spectrum 7 were. But Harken -- which acquired Spectrum 7/Arbusto -- currently has 40 employees in its U.S. operations, according to its FAQ. Who knows, maybe it had 500 employees back in 1986 when Bush was a director, but I doubt it. And managing 40 or fewer employees seems to me to be markedly different from the kind of organization that Orrin intends to invoke. (Later in his post, Judd makes an analogy to Ford Motor Corporation, which has 370,000 employees worldwide).

It's hard to believe that President Bush learned a great deal about running a modern bureaucratic corporation from his work experience. That just leaves the possibility that he internalized a wide range of skills in managing large corporations during his two years at Harvard Business School,
which then lay dormant for fifteen years, only to reveal themselves when he became Governor of Texas. For me, this is wishful thinking.

ExPatPundit makes several points that are true in themselves, but which I don't think really bear on my points. First, Bush went into the energy business at a time when it was in precipitous decline; you can hardly blame him for the worldwide copllapse of oil prices. Second, he did have some success running the Texas Rangers, after 1986, so it seems harsh to portray him as a complete failure in business, though I also don't think his success or lack of success is germane to my argument that his experience has influenced him.

But more importantly, all modern businesses are bureaucratic messes. The techniques that I described for getting something done in a company are based on what I see in a fairly small business of just 400 people--everything is turf wars, empty titles, ego stroking, etc. You don't have to run Ford Motor Company to know how it's run (you can actually just read David Halberstam's The Reckoning). Bush it seems to me is running his government like a business, which should not be surprising to anyone given his business background. Particularly revealing in this regard was his choice of Cheney and Rumsfeld, who brought with them absolutely no political benefit, but who had significant experience running both the U.S. government and major corporations. That he made such pragmatic choices after barely winning election, rather than suckling favor with various constituencies, seems to indicate that he takes the business model quite seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 11, 2002 8:39 PM
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