BOB GARFIELD: CEO-in-chief, the MBA president. Much has been made of President Bush's corporate model of management and the fact that he is the first U.S. president with a master's in business administration. But the media's infatuation with the president's Harvard cred-is not shared by the corporate cognoscenti according to On the Media's John Solomon, who by the way graduated from Harvard Business School 16 years after the president.
JOHN SOLOMON: This spring a New York Times front page headline trumpeted Bush Providing Corporate Model. Staff knows to look sharp, speak fast, poll less, and spare him the details. A recent Arizona Republic editorial also tapped what has become a popular metaphor: Adults in Charge at the White House -- MBA Style Works.
QUINN MILLS: It's surprising that the political writers seem to know so little about the business community.
JOHN SOLOMON: Quinn Mills has been teaching management at Harvard Business School for 25 years. He admits to being more than a little perplexed of late by the media's constant invocation of President Bush's so-called corporate model and MBA style.
QUINN MILLS: Well I think there's a good bit of surprise in the-- community of faculty and students at, at Harvard at the Business School and at other business schools -- at the kind of a characterization that the media makes of corporate leadership when they talk about the president in that context.
JOHN SOLOMON: Rob Walker, the business columnist for Slate.com, says that the corporate model highlighted in the Times piece this spring would not have been recognized in most U.S. boardrooms. Walker adds that when it comes to coverage of Bush's management approach much of the media is 50 years out of step.
ROB WALKER: I don't think that you would find many of the CEO's that we're sort of most impressed with endorsing the ideas that were set out there as being evidence of the Bush corporate style. They were basing their argument largely on the dress code that had been [LAUGHS] introduced a the White House and a new emphasis on punctuality at meetings and that sort of thing.
JOHN SOLOMON: As business has become such a big story over the past decade and most White House reporters work for large corporations, the press's superficial understanding of corporate life is surprising, but it seems as if that lack of knowledge has clearly worked to Bush's advantage, because business is hot. It's seen as the engine of America's international pre-eminence and the businessman has become a mainstream societal hero.
ROB WALKER: Generally even in this kind of a post-bubble environment I think people have pretty good feelings about how corporations are run and that they're efficient and they're competitive and they get things done and, and that stands in contrast to the way we think, the shorthand of the way we think about government which we always think of as being sort of, you know, endlessly bumbling and, and caught up in red tape and bureaucracy and never really getting to the bottom line.
JOHN SOLOMON: When I entered business school at the end of the 1980s, MBAs were portrayed in the media as narrow-minded and money-obsessed at best and unethical at worst. There once would have been widespread doubts about a business degree's suitability to politics or that a graduate could be trusted as the ultimate custodian of the public good. As they might say at Harvard, consumer attitudes have changed. But Professor Mills warns that the MBA-in-Chief tag has the potential for damaging Bush's image if he doesn't live up to reporters' ideas of a corporate administration.
QUINN MILLS: One thing they might say is that we said this guy, this president, was more business-like, but he isn't. The White House is confused, it has too many different sources of power; they conflict with one another. It's not being coordinated. No large company would operate this way!
JOHN SOLOMON: On the other hand Mills says Bush might also be criticized for choosing an inappropriate leadership model for his government job.
QUINN MILLS: And in fact the whole problem arises out of the fact that he's trying to be a businessman where he really ought to be the president of the United States.
JOHN SOLOMON: While emphasizing the strengths of the Harvard MBA training the media has so far under-covered the fact that the B School may have reinforced some of the president's potentially problematic management traits. Ironically for someone often chided for not being a good student, Bush may have learned his lessons almost too well. Harvard tells you to figure out what you do well and delegate the rest; not to over-think, but not to rely solely on the thinking of others. The press has yet to look into whether he is taking his MBA precepts to an inappropriate extreme. If they knew more about business, according to Professor Mills, reporters would realize that the MBA President's operation is not so different from that of his predecessor -- the Juris Doctor President.
QUINN MILLS: I view the Clinton White House and the Bush White House as a lot more like each other than either one of them was really like the headquarters of a large corporation.
JOHN SOLOMON: Getting beyond misplaced and played out MBA metaphors will be important when the time comes for shareholders to vote on whether to extend the contract of the CEO-in-Chief. For On the Media, this is John Solomon.