In a bid to stir up debate that goes beyond “conventional politics”, Politico is holding an imaginary U.S. primary of off-ticket, independent candidates. The ballot features the likes of Michael Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton and Jon Huntsman (ok, so not completely beyond convention). Also in the ranks is one tech CEO: Cisco’s John Chambers. From Politico’s nomination:
The guy has a good personal story to tell: He was diagnosed with dyslexia as a kid, overcame it, excelled at Middle America universities – first at West Virginia and later at Indiana – and rose to head one of the world’s largest and most influential companies. He has an even better and more relevant business story to tell: He has pulled a company through a wrenching period – including big layoffs – helped reinvent its culture and operations and made money in the complex global marketplace.
He knows firsthand how government can both impede – and encourage – growth and deals daily with the competitive pressures of China and other emerging markets.
He could run as an authentic outsider, someone who hasn’t spent his life pursuing public office. A Washington-has-no-damn-clue message on navigating and dominating the world economy would resonate for many. His smooth speaking style and self-confidence would play well on the national stage.
More ingenious Cisco product placement? I hope not, but Chambers is one of the most non-conventional candidates on the list, now that Bloomberg’s established his political chops. Would he or could he make a presidential contender? I’m doubtful. Sure, he has the sales experience that comes with a large enterprise business, and that would surely help negotiate through the labyrinthine maze of Washington deal making.
He’s also got the technical chops: Cisco has had its down years, certainly, but he has plotted bold visions and painful pivots to keep the company strong, focused and ambitious. I simply don’t think the current leadership in Washington would know what to do with a Chambers presidency, stymieing any forward momentum from both sides, and I think his long-tenure as CEO and later Chairman at Cisco has ill-prepared him for the compromise, gridlock and frustration American politics hold.
But I could be wrong: His political aspiration led him to co-chair John McCain’s 2007 Presidential run, and Fast Company profiled him as a “hardcore Republican” experimenting with socialist corporate values.
Either way, I think Washington could definitely learn a lot from tech culture and Chambers in particular:
- It’s OK to admit your wrong: Chambers stepped away from Cisco’s 25 vaunted priorities, apologizing to the company’s stock holders, employees and customers just a few years after betting the farm on them. In politics, that’s called flip-flopping. In business, not doing that is called suicide.
- Directly connecting with people matters. TelePresence has been derided by some as a dressed up version of teleconferencing, but to Chambers, it’s an essential part of Cisco’s strategy. More closely connecting with others, whether in personal life, business life or political life, is important. That’s a lesson Washington seems to have forgotten on both sides.
- Building culture. A lot of politicians talk about the “culture” of Washington: Insider culture, partisan culture. But few seem to be able to actually do something about it. Chambers underscored the importance of building a quality corporate culture at Cisco, which was based on a non-partisan vision for a better future.