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Why CEOs Joined Trump’s Administration

Now that Donald Trump is reportedly going to name Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his choice for secretary of state any minute now, we can count on a predictable line of media chatter. All these CEOs! CKE Restaurants chief Andrew Puzder for labor secretary; Wilbur Ross, head of his own investment firm, for commerce secretary; former WWE CEO Linda McMahon to run the Small Business Administration; hedge fund and film company boss Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary; and now Tillerson. It’s the most CEO-intensive cabinet ever. Can this be good for the country? Do these mega-bosses even understand ordinary people? What about conflicts of interest?

They’re worthy questions, but here’s a less obvious one we should also ask: Why on earth are these CEOs doing it? Though it isn’t widely reported, many CEOs get asked by presidents of both parties to serve at high levels in Washington, and most of them turn and run as fast as they can. You can’t blame them. If you’re one of those nominees, consider what you’re in for:

-You must be confirmed in public hearings. Sometimes these can be a love-fest for a CEO; for example, the Senate instantly confirmed former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson as Treasury Secretary on a voice vote in 2006. But such deferential treatment is unlikely this time. Senate Democrats are furious that the Republican majority refused even to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, and they’re vowing to make life miserable for some Trump cabinet nominees.

-Many federal employees can be cavalier about following your orders because firing them is virtually impossible. Firing them for poor performance is especially difficult, the Government Accountability Office reported last year. It’s a decidedly different world from the private sector.

-Your success is subjective. CEOs know exactly how their performance will be measured. Cabinet members don’t, and in the political world many people will likely argue you’re doing a terrible job no matter what.

Your board of directors has 535 members. They’re delighted to meddle in your affairs, and you dare not ignore them. They approve your funding (or not).

And then there’s this question, posed by a CEO I know who was asked, and declined, to serve in a previous administration: “How many CEOs have gone to Washington and come back with their reputation enhanced?” He could think of only one, former Goldman Sachs chief Robert Rubin, who was Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999. He handled financial crises in Russia, Asia, and Latin America; the U.S. economy boomed; and the federal government ran a surplus. Clinton called him “the greatest secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton.” Anybody else? It’s hard to expand on that one-person list.

The wonder isn’t that Trump found five (and counting) CEOs he wants in his cabinet. The wonder is that he found five who are willing to do it.

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What We’re Reading Today

China on Trump: We have “serious concerns”
President-elect Donald Trump said Sunday that the U.S. needn’t hold to the one China policy by foregoing relations with Taiwan. Beijing didn’t take the statement lightly, saying through a spokesman that the “issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The spokesman said cooperation with the U.S. is “out of the question” if Trump rejects the one China policy. Reuters

U.K. report savages Uber
A new British parliamentary report says contract drivers for Travis Kalanick‘s company earn low pay and suffer a poor lifestyle. The drivers were found, after fuel costs, to earn one-third Britain’s minimum wage and to work long hours, making roads more dangerous. The report said fewer fares and increases in Uber’s commission have worsened conditions. Fortune

Boeing to sell $16.6 billion in aircraft to Iran Air
Dennis Muilenburg‘s company made the deal after the Iran accord lifted sanctions on selling to the country. But Boeing must still convince a new Congress and the president-elect to approve the deal. Trump has criticized the Iran nuclear agreement. Muilenburg will likely sell the deal as a U.S. job creator. USA Today

Building Better Leaders

Feel like a recent negotiation went poorly?
Instead of beating yourself up over what went wrong, imagine what you could have done to create a better and a worse outcome. That puts the “failure” into perspective. Harvard Business Review

Women’s experience on the job differs from men’s…
…once they have kids. Women were more likely to receive pay cuts after having a child, while fathers’ pay increased. Fortune

Those who smile less in the office… 
…may hold a career advantage. Research finds that coworkers believe an employee who’s always smiling is naive. Fast Company

Russian Influence

CIA’s conclusion on Russia’s interference in the election…
…derived from a preponderance of circumstantial evidence, not a breakthrough in the investigation. It isn’t clear why the report, which claims Russia promoted Donald Trump’s candidacy, wasn’t released before the election. President Obama did receive some of the information in briefings before November. Republican Senator John McCain, and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff are publicly accusing Russia of interference. NYT

Trump calls CIA claims “ridiculous”
His transition team belittled the report of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf, saying the CIA also believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Trump‘s public dismissal of the findings could create a rift between him and the intelligence community that could linger throughout his term. Financial Times

Rex Tillerson’s Russian ties
Trump‘s reported pick for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil CEO Tillerson, has a long history of doing business in Russia, raising concerns from senators in both parties as they prepare for his confirmation hearings. McCain and Sen. Ben Cardin have expressed consternation over Tillerson’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. WSJ

Fortune Reads and Videos

Bill Gates launches clean energy venture fund
Top names are backing the Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund, including Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Fortune

China’s richest man warns Trump…
…that his statements could cost the U.S. thousands of jobs. Wang Jianlin says the 20,000 people he has helped to employ in the U.S. could be jobless if relations crumble. Fortune 

82% of Lyft drivers work less than 20 hours per week
The company found that 57% of drivers use the money they make to pay for primary expenses.  Fortune

Bank execs’ wealth has surged…
…as stocks have risen since the election. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is worth almost $140 million more since November 8. Fortune

Happy Birthday

Zappos founder Tony Hsieh turns 43 today.  Success Story

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