Twenty-six of 42presidents,including Bill Clinton,were lawyers.Seven were generals.George W.Bush becomes the first with an MBA.
Those who have had Bush for a boss since the mid-1980s —in the businesses of oil,baseball and Texas state government —describe his management style as straight from the pages of the organizational-behavior textbooks he studied while getting his masters of business administration degree at Harvard University in 1975.
He manages by what is known as "walking around,"having learned that sitting behind a desk and passing out memos does little to energize anyone.
He has a reputation for fueling "creative tension"among his subordinates,encouraging them to take and defend opposing positions.That sacrifices harmony,but puts ideas to the test and lets Bush stay above the fray,where he can offer guidance instead of barking orders.Imagine the creative tension that may erupt from the likes of Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell and Defense Secretary-designate Donald Rumsfeld.
Above all,former employees say that he is a master at delegating and installing measures of accountability —ways of knowing whether subordinates are getting the job done without looking over any shoulders.That frees Bush for strategic thinking —perhaps the two words hammered into MBA students most —which means thinking ahead to seize opportunities and to derail threats to the best of plans.
"George was my boss,"says Tom Schieffer,who served as president of the Texas Rangers under Bush between 1991and 1995."But he never made me feel that way.He went out of his way to treat me as a partner,not a subordinate."
That's one trait that might be of concern,says Michael Useem,director of the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change at the University of Pennsylvania.It's important for subordinates to feel part of the team,but not just because the boss craves popularity.Just as in the military,it must be understood who is in charge when the final order is given.
Bush's critics say his success has more to do with his family name than his business expertise,that his oil company was bailed out by a timely acquisition and that he leveraged his influence to get a new baseball stadium compliments of taxpayers.
His defenders say his leadership skill is real."I've been in business with a lot of Harvard MBAs,"says Texas billionaire Richard Rainwater,a key investor among the 70who put up $86million in the 1989acquisition of the Texas Rangers baseball team.One of the 70was Bush,who borrowed $600,000for a stake that he sold nine years later for $14.9million.
"George has a better human touch.He can read balance sheets as well as body language,"says Rainwater in his first interview about Bush since the governor launched his campaign for president.
MBA-speak from the bully pulpit
Bush calls his MBA a training exercise in capitalism that gave him the confidence to walk into a room of financiers.To the world,it could mean at least four years of MBA-speak from the bully pulpit.
"I'm not afraid to surround myself with strong and competent people,"he said when announcing three Cabinet nominees."I hope the American people realize that a good executive is one that understands how to recruit people and how to delegate,how to line authority and responsibility,how to hold people accountable for results."
Former employees often mention Bush's sense of humor."My mother taught me not to be a know-it-all.I didn't let her down,"Bush likes to quip.
And those who know him say he has an uncanny memory for names,for everyone from power brokers to the janitors at the Texas state capitol.
"I had been working for the state for 10or 12years,and the day after his inauguration as governor,he came to everybody's offices to introduce himself,"says Catherine Uptain Sims,a Democrat who worked in the Texas governor's budget and planning office under Bush and former Democratic governor Ann Richards.
"He saw the pictures of my family.He was so engaging and so genuine,"Sims says."In the years I worked for the state and worked for so many politicians,never has anybody showed me that much respect."
Bush often campaigned on his ability as Texas governor to reach across party lines and get things done.Paul Sadler,Democratic chairman of the state House Public Education Committee,says that is the way Texas government works,because state legislators are paid $600a month and are eager to compromise so they can go home to make a living.The U.S.Congress has no such motivation.
That said,Bush is very personable,Sadler says,and shares credit for accomplishments.Few Texas Democrats agree with his policies,but they like him,he says.
"We're not idiots in Texas.We would see through insincerity,"Sadler says."He's genuine."
Firing the manager
"(Bush)is demanding,but super to work for,"says Robert McCleskey,a certified public accountant in Midland who did Bush's tax work during his days in the oil business."Someone who doesn't tend to business,doesn't work out."
Some get fired.
When Bush was a Texas Rangers partner,he fired manager Bobby Valentine,who then landed a job with a baseball team in Japan.
But Valentine,who worked his way back to managing last year's National League champion New York Mets,has no resentment in his voice when he talks about his 1992dismissal.
He says Bush was a good boss who handled the firing as well as he could.Bush got straight to the point,then quickly shifted the focus on the well-being of Valentine's family.Indeed,Valentine's description of the meeting has the makings of a campaign slogan.
"He was compassionate,yet firm,"Valentine says.
While with the Rangers,Bush used the stadium to jog and lift weights hours before a game .After using Valentine's shower,he would get "dressed and put his feet up on my desk and talk about a trade or that night's pitcher,"Valentine says.Sometimes he would offer "out-of-the-box"ideas ,such as a 10-player trade.
Once the game started,Valentine was the boss on the field.Bush's seats were so close to where the manager spent most of his time outside of the dugout that "I could slap him on the knee,"Valentine said."But he never said so much as 'Time for a hit-and-run,'or 'Aren't you going to take the pitcher out?'"
Bush always sat in the stands,says former Rangers general manager Tom Grieve,even when a team slump meant heckles from the crowd.
"George was always right there taking heat from everybody.He was not there to reap the accolades,but to answer questions and promote the team."
A business administration
With about 100,000MBAs minted yearly ,an MBA president was probably inevitable.But no president,administration and Cabinet has been as marinated in capitalism,especially the oil business.
Bush's corporatelike team starts with Vice President-elect Dick Cheney,who resigned as CEO of energy company Halliburton to become Bush's running mate.In Powell,Bush will have the first secretary of state with an MBA,which Powell received from George Washington University.Two members of his Cabinet arrive as corporate CEOs.National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has a 129,915-ton Chevron oil tanker named for her.
Bush,who has an undergraduate degree in history from Yale,will have a team that is not free of lawyers.But it will be made up of lawyers who have represented such corporate clients as Dole Foods.Even Alberto Gonzales,the White House counsel,specialized in business law out of Harvard Law School.He was headed for a career in mergers and acquisitions before being appointed by Bush to the Texas Supreme Court,where he was regarded as a pro-business jurist.
Bush probably has an advantage not being a lawyer,Schieffer says."I'm a lawyer.A lot of times lawyers have difficulty in executive positions.They're too immersed in detail —they've been trained that way —and they become micro-managers."
Schieffer was in charge of most hiring and firing of Rangers office staff,but not when it came time to fire Valentine."George was the one to deliver the message,"Schieffer says."It wasn't something he told me to do.I had a great deal of respect for him doing that."
Bush also reportedly persuaded John Sununu to resign as White House chief of staff in 1991while working for his father,the first President Bush,and he wasted little time in allowing Linda Chavez to withdraw her nomination as Labor secretary after questions were raised about an illegal immigrant who had lived in her house.
Knowing when to get out of the way
Useem believes having an MBA president will be good for the country and hopes that it will encourage more top MBA graduates to resist the riches of Wall Street and Corporate America to go into public service.
"The value of an MBA is that for two years,you spend a lot of time thinking about how to run an enterprise,"Useem says."Most superintendents of schools and high-ranking public officials have never had two full years to think about that."
Useem says large corporations and organizations --and Bush will be running the granddaddy of them all --are too complex for one person.He says Bush would be wise to follow the lead of CEOs John Chambers of Cisco Systems and Lou Gerstner of IBM,who are known for being hands-off.They set measures of accountability,then get out of the way.
Academic research shows that corporate success is more likely to come from 10talented officers with a weaker CEO than from a genius CEO with weak lieutenants,Useem says.Bush's success,therefore,probably rides less on Bush than on the crucial 10members of his Cabinet and staff,he says.
But pressure-packed decisions will ultimately fall on Bush,and it's impossible to know how he will handle them.His toughest business days were during the 1980s,when wildcat drilling produced about nine dry holes for every good well.
Oil prices were depressed.Bush often had to tell investors that his company had lost them a small fortune and worry about how to pay his small staff.
"We were under a lot of stress,trying to make sure the company survived,"says Michael Conaway,a certified public accountant in Midland,Texas,who was Bush's chief financial officer for five years.But he says it never showed on Bush.
Running a small oil company has little in common with running the world's only superpower.But former Bush employees say they doubt he will change much.
"He's not one who broods over decisions,"Schieffer says."He gets information,makes a decision and goes on."