Commerce Matters with Benjamin Akande: Barack, Inc.: Lessons From Obama's Campaign

Published in: Ladue News
Author: Benjamin Ola. Akande

Business schools who use case studies as a basis for teaching understand the value that lies in learning from the success and failure of others. Combining their own observations with those of media experts, authors Barry Libert and Rick Faulk break down the unprecedented campaign of our 44th president and what businesses can glean from it in their new book Barack, Inc.: Winning Business Lessons of the Obama Campaign.

The authors offer critical lessons from one of the most successful presidential campaigns of all times. Some of the lessons are tried and true business practices, others are cutting edge. Together, they lay out a blueprint with practical insight on managing projects, the ability to focus and the power of results. Barack, Inc. is not a love letter lauding the candidate (now president) as perfect. In fact, Libert and Faulk use mistakes and how they were handled to highlight lessons from the campaign.

Take for example "no drama" Obama's unflappability. Staying cool under pressure and ignoring all distractions allowed the candidate to stay on message, correct problems seamlessly and adjust quickly. Like a well-heeled business leader, he could do this because of his soundly built organization, the contingencies it had at the ready and the organization's ability to implement those plans at a moment's notice. Staying cool also means leading with humility, a trait that doesn't come second nature for most business leaders. But, the upside of putting egotism and pride aside to gain feedback from bright, opinionated people will always pay off with a more cohesive workforce.

In Barack Inc., the authors wrote candidly about the Obama campaign's use of social networking. From Facebook and Flickr to Twitter and YouTube, it could be said the candidate was able to blog and text himself to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Tapping into the world of the iPod generation (18 to 28 year old voters), Obama's supporters were able to register millions to vote for the first time while also setting fire under individuals who sparked a nationwide virtual campaign. Only by embracing the new, nurturing 'netroots' and knowing when to let the platforms speak for itself like the Obama campaign did can business in the 21st century compete in a Web 2.0 world.

"We are the change that we seek," Barack Obama said on the campaign trail. And according to the authors, his choice to embody change over running away from it or turning it into a marketing ruse made all the difference to his campaign. He used it to challenge his opponents, who campaigned on 'past' experience and to share his vision of the future. "Change is the engine of both politics and business, the power of growth and progress," the authors write. What better time than now for business leaders to initiate change for their companies and become the new brand of commander-in-chief their organizations need to battle the current economic realities?

Taken by Obama's strategy for success and what it can do to help turn businesses around, the authors call on their readers to e-mail the dean of their favorite business school and urge him to offer a crash course in Obama campaigning and leadership. I think I will heed that advice and contact the dean of business at Webster University asking that he look closely at this request!

As a student of leadership, I believe that leading is a marathon and the race is won not necessarily by how fast you go but by your ability to pace yourself. Obama's tenure as President of the United States will not be measured or remembered by what he did in the first 100 or 200 days but by the collective achievement over the next 1,460 days in office. It's a long way from here to there; but the leadership he displayed during the campaign and in the initial days may provide some verification of his potential for success. To find out whether that potential becomes a reality or not, we will have to wait until the end of this marathon.

A Letter to President Obama

22-Jan-2009Published in: Ladue News Author: Benjamin Ola. Akande

Dear President Obama,

During the campaign, you offered America hope and promised to restore a civility and practicality to the nation's highest office so that, together, we could rise to the challenges and opportunities that lay at our doorstep. Now it's time to make some wise choices.

In your acceptance speech on the evening of Nov. 4, 2008, you were pointed in your statement that, "While we breathe, we hope." As President, your greatest challenge will be effectively leading a cabinet of highly qualified and highly opinionated individuals who will undoubtedly have differing ideas on how best to resolve the major issues we face. Your leadership will be tested early and often, and while you have assured Americans that there will be setbacks and false starts, your willingness to make tough choices early on will set the tone for the revival of a shell-shocked economy and a battle-fatigued nation. Yet the fact remains that hope will not reduce housing foreclosures. Hope does not stop a recession. Hope cannot create jobs. Hope will not prevent catastrophic failures of banks. Hope is not a strategy.

I would like to offer 10 priorities to consider:

The Deficit. Don't be concerned about increasing the deficit in the short term. There is an urgent need to stimulate the economy now not at any price, but almost. Your recovery plan must combine tax cuts and structured spending in areas that foster long-term economic growth, specifically energy, healthcare and education. This is one time when we need to act for today to ensure that tomorrow will be much better.

The Auto Industry. I want to urge you to reject extending additional bailout monies to the Big Three. Chapter 11 bankruptcy is the best thing that can happen to these automakers. They need help quickly, but not in the form of government largesse. This is a time for 'tough love,' not a time for enabling poor performance, corporate arrogance and unwise decisions. They will thank you in the long run.

The New New Deal. There is urgency to rebuild America's roads and bridges, but the real opportunity is to anchor your recovery plan on a renewed energy policy that is timely and targeted. The imperative should entail: 1) a green bailout for U.S. automakers; 2) green infrastructure; 3) tax credit for companies to produce alternative energy; 4) a construction program for a new smart electric grid; and 5) increased investment in mass transit using green technology. The projects must be shovel-ready to get people back to work immediately.

2009 Homeowner Protection Act. Now is the time to change the bankruptcy laws to protect homeowners from the vagaries of the marketplace. We have expedited Chapter 11 bankruptcy for businesses to keep them from going under when they run into financial turbulence, and we should do no less for homeowners. It does no one any good to force poor and middle-income Americans out of their homes, and we know that vacant houses destroy even the best neighborhoods. An expedited homeowner protection plan would allow for the restructuring of the mortgages of millions of Americans who are under water. Stemming the flood of foreclosures will reinvigorate the confidence of banks and provide a shot in the arm for the credit market, putting the economy back on the right foot.

Strengthening Middle Class America. Your administration should push to expand the earned income tax credit as a relief measure for the middle class and give Americans making less than $150,000 a $500 tax credit per person on the first $8,100 in income. This will increase the rate of spending and the rate of savings by the middle class, which will be a source of new capital to spur growth.

A Health Plan for All. The greatest fear among most Americans is the possibility of losing their jobs, and with the loss of jobs comes the real possibility of loss of health insurance. We need a comprehensive program that provides health insurance to the unemployed and to the uninsured, and it must happen posthaste. For a nation of our wealth to have any of our citizens go without health care is nothing short of criminal.

Rewrite Financial Service Laws. One of the key reasons for the current financial crisis has been weak regulation of the financial services industry. There needs to be a comprehensive overhaul of enforcement policies of the Securities Exchange Commission. Demand disclosure and stipulate new accounting requirements.

Restructure Bailout. The first $350 billion of the financial market bailout has done very little to jump-start the economy. The next $350 installment must be directed at assisting homeowners and expanding consumer credit.

Foster a Bipartisan Approach. Divisive politics got us into this mess, unifying politics can help get us out of it. The country can no longer afford to see things in terms of red and blue or black and white. Enduring solutions will emerge from the gray.

Caution Consumers. President Obama, I urge you to use your presidential pulpit to speak to Americans, to encourage them to be cautious and prudent in their spending. While consumer spending is a key to the economic revival, at times it may be wise to counsel consumers to, in the words of former St. Louis Fed President Bill Poole "Put their foot on the brake way before they get to the stop sign."

What America needs, more than ever, is your ability to give hope through your leadership. May you have the inner strength to move this nation from uncertainty to certainty. I wish you well.

My Best,

Benjamin Ola. Akande