Are the skills learned in business school transferable to the political stage? Or are they not even much good for business leadership?
Putin and Medvedev frequently point to their own business experience, but this is largely confined to state-owned companies, so they lack first-hand knowledge of private enterprise. Yet another reason, perhaps, why the country’s business and investment climate is so bad.
Among the candidates in Russia’s presidential election in March 2012 is Russia’s third-richest man, the multi-billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov. In summer 2011, Prokhorov took the reigns of the pro-business Right Cause party ahead of the parliamentary elections on Dec. 4, but he quickly ran into trouble. His party colleagues accused him of using the same authoritarian management methods he applied to his businesses. After he was ignominiously ousted, Prokhorov claimed he had been set up by the Kremlin – the lawyers, it seems, had outmaneuvered the businessman. This was hardly surprising since the Kremlin had earlier tamed those oligarchs of the 1990s with pretentions to political influence – Vladimir Gusinsky, Boris Berezovsky and, most famously, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Undeterred by setbacks last summer, however, Prokhorov showed up personally at the Central Electoral Committee on Jan. 18 with boxes containing the two million signatures required to get on the ballot in the March presidential elections. But we are unlikely to find out if Prokhorov would make a good president since, despite Russia’s nascent protest movement, Putin looks certain to be re-elected for a third term.
Does business experience really help in politics? Certainly, some of the greatest leaders in world history have had none – Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan and Napoleon are just some examples, although many would argue that the brutality of the first three in particular disqualifies them from greatness.
Nevertheless, business academics frequently turn to such great historical figures to find the secret of their “strategies,” “management techniques” and “leadership styles” to apply it to business. But as the German sociologist Max Weber pointed out a century ago, great leaders usually exude charisma in spades – and that is surely an innate quality that cannot be learned or acquired.
An even more interesting and topical issue is the paradoxical question of whether business experience and degrees like MBAs qualify people for business at all.
As early as 1980, Harvard professors William Abernathy and Robert Hayes characterized the then-new American management orthodoxy as “short-run financial criteria, corporate diversification and risk minimization and over reliance on marketing rather than production and technology.” Business Week criticized “paper management” – the shuffling of assets rather than knowing “the speed and feed of machines.”
When the Clean Air Act was passed in the United States, the joke in Tokyo and Osaka was that while Ford and General Motors called in their lawyers, Toyota and Nissan called in their engineers.
It is a paradox virtually no one ever notices that Japan and Germany, two of the richest and most successful manufacturing countries and exporters in the world, cannot muster one well-known business school between them.
Unfortunately, in these difficult times, virtually no politician anywhere seems up to snuff.
Ian Pryde is founder and C.E.O. of Eurasia Strategy & Communications in Moscow.
Published by Russia Beyond The Headlines at http://rbth.com/articles/2012/01/24/can_a_businessman_make_a_good_politician_14227.html