Presidents and business experience

Re Mitt Romney’s claim that Presidents require business experience:

Presidents with NO business experience:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Harry Truman (“a failed haberdasher”)
Dwight Eisenhower
Abraham Lincoln
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Lyndon Baines Johnson
William Jefferson Clinton
Ulysses S. Grant
Ronald Reagan, unless you count shilling for GE

Presidents with business experience::

George W. Bush, MBA
Herbert Hoover

Oh and Abraham Lincoln (R) was a  lawyer (re Clint Eastwood’s disparagement of lawyer Presidents)

10 thoughts on “Presidents and business experience”

  1. I mean, I’m totally in sympathy with your thrust here, but your lists are not accurate.

    Other Presidents with business experience include the failed haberdasher Harry Truman and the failed farmer and tanner U. S. Grant. And that’s off the top of my head, and it’s not counting the quite significant business interests of LBJ.

    You could argue that it’s not fair to put these failed businesspeople with more successful ones – but Dubya was an epic failure in business, destroying vast amounts of investment everywhere he touched; he was just able to use his connections to repeatedly get bailed out by his daddy’s friends, and later to hitch a ride with a massive misuse of eminent domain and taxpayer funds to get wealthy as a “private businessman” effectively at the public teat. If viewed honestly, a much worse record than being a failed haberdasher.

    1. Dubya’s father was famously described (by Ann Richards?) of having been born on third base and thought he had hit a triple. Dubya was also born on third, but was thrown out trying to steal second.

  2. Sorry I didn’t think I had to spell this out. Romney’s claim was black and white and so even a list with some play in it makes the point, as your own comment indicates. Neither Truman nor Grant nor LBJ or their backers would ever have touted their business experience as the key to their leadership, and Johnson would never have claimed to have been a business manager. His quote re Business is fundamentally different from government as evidenced by any article on corporate strategy — which is about sustainable private advantage and about getting out of unprofitable business segments. Government shouldn’t just write off citizens as too hard to serve or problems as too difficult. The fact that someone is good at working the angles for personal gain within a given business system does not mean he or she has any expertise about what kind of regulatory system should exist. When LBJ tried to defend President Kennedy’s advisers (some of whom had significant business experience, Sam Rayburn famously said that he wished they had run for Sheriff just once. Economic management requires different intellectual understanding from business success, and governing requires different skills than business of any sort.

  3. “How had Romney scored such a favorable deal at the FDIC’s expense? It didn’t hurt that he had close ties to the agency – the kind of “crony capitalism” he now decries. A month before he closed the 1991 loan agreement, Romney promoted a former FDIC bank examiner to become a senior executive at Bain. He also had pull at the top: FDIC chairman Bill Seidman, who had served as finance chair for Romney’s father when he ran for president in 1968.”

    Read more:

  4. FDR did dabble in investments in the 1920s, but mostly losing ventures. His biographer Conrad Black reckons that for a political genius, he was less than mediocre as an investor.

    Roosevelt’s outstanding business success was to buy a Hotel and Spa at Warm Springs, Georgia and turn it into a polio treatment centre. I am not sure if it was run for profit though – it was administered as a trust.

  5. Grant had considerable business experience, both as a teenager (mostly successful, although he hated the leather tanning work he did) and with his brother between the Mexican and Civil Wars (not overly successful IIRC).


  6. Robert Dallek reckons LBJ was a brilliant entrepreneur. He was heavily invested in radio and TV, even in the 1950s. Those investments made him a fortune. LBY being LBJ, he used his political connections to further his business interests.

    But the main point is that many great Presidents have been poor businessmen, or not been businessmen at all. On the other hand, some successful businessmen have been poor Presidents.

  7. TR ran his own ranch for a while, which ought to count as business experience of some sort.

  8. Interesting that both Bush’s and Hoover’s business was *resource extraction*—an industry with a uniquely zero-sum view of where wealth comes from.

    As an aside, Hoover wrote a book entitled “Principles of Mining” (free on with a jaw-droppingly racist chapter about how to hire, deploy, and supervise a nonwhite labor force.

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