Business Leadership
Now and Then

In a recent Financial Times op-ed, entitled, “Lessons in Darwinism for the western world,” Geoffrey Moore lays out the big picture.

U.S. companies have enjoyed ‘home-field advantage’ throughout the 20th century. They dwelt in the most vibrant economy, drew upon the most mobile and best educated workforce, enjoyed the most plentiful sources of capital, and sold in the most attractive market for goods and services. If a company wanted to be significant, it had to win in the U.S. market—and they were there first.

Now we are into the 21st century and it is already clear that the home field advantage is crossing the Pacific. In this century, China and India look to be the great canvases upon which economic successes will be painted. They will have the most vibrant economies, the most mobile and best educated workforces, the most plentiful sources of capital, the most attractive markets for goods and services. If Americans and Europeans want to win in the 21st century, we must learn to play better in away games.

With the Oregon Primary taking place this month, now is a good time to examine whether there are some cracks appearing across our broad leadership platform.

The Federal Level

What we know now: Polls show that had Americans known before the war that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, they would not have supported the war. This intelligence failure gives the Bush doctrine of preemption a black eye both domestically and with our allies—those from “Old Europe” and from Asia. We also know that the Iraq War has put a hold on needed domestic reforms, including both Social Security reform and tax reform. America’s new leader in ’08 will face pent up demand for domestic reform and leadership.

What we don’t know: Americans frustrated with the war’s length worry, as Bill O’Reilly is fond of doing, that it might last as long as the Civil War or World War II. But the Iraq War may be more like the Vietnam War, which lasted more than a decade and was a surrogate for a larger war. Surrogate wars can take longer than major conflicts. While we can’t close the book on preemption as a security strategy, its benefits, if any are forthcoming, will most likely come to fruition long after Bush has left office.

The State Level

What we know now: For the last 25 years in Oregon only one political party has been able to produce candidates that could win statewide. Thankfully, that era may be coming to an end. Whether it is because of Ron Saxton’s rightward turn on education, land-use reform, and immigration, or some unknown force stirring in GOP politics, for the first time in two decades Oregon’s Republican Party is off its knees. In the future, Oregon will remain a blue state, but it will more closely resemble Massachusetts in its politics than the “one-party” Left Coast. In Massachusetts conservative leaders like Bill Weld or the current governor Mitt Romney are routinely elected as the state’s chief executive. This is good news for Oregon, but bad news for Ben Westlund’s independent bid in November. It is also good news for U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, who, with a revitalized Oregon GOP, might have the statewide political cover to take fiscally conservative positions in Washington in the future.

What we don’t know: Who will be Oregon’s next governor? Will it be a reelected Ted Kulongoski freed up in his second term from the numbing, suffocating public employee unions and their resistance to all things relevant to the future? Or will it be a Republican, completing the first step in rejuvenating the party? Either way, the outcome of November’s election promises better leadership than the last 16 years.

The Local Level

What we know now: The merger of the Association for Portland Progress (APP) and the Portland Chamber of Commerce into the Portland Business Alliance four years ago appears to be a failure. When it was proposed, one Portland business owner who runs an international business warned that the coming merger would not work because the APP (a collection of downtown landlords and utility leaders) would swallow up the small business voice of the former Portland chamber. That warning is proving to be true. Both Jim Francesconi’s campaign for mayor, and now Ginny Burdick’s recent campaign for city council, both heavily supported by the PBA, have reinforced the perception in the minds of PBA leaders that candidates running in Multnomah County can only speak in “progressive” code and never on business principles—this, despite the loss of 30,000 jobs in the downtown core in the last ten years. Too scared to voice the language of your mission is no way to run a business organization. The center cannot hold. The organization might just collapse because of its own timidity.

What we don’t know: Who will be the leaders to rebuild a more traditional Portland Chamber of Commerce, and give business a real voice in helping shape the Oregon’s future.

BrainstormNW - May 2006

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