Fish out of Water: a CEO in Politics

The old dichotomy between the private sphere and the public sector is failing these days. That line was clear in the past—never impervious, make no mistake, but in general, it held. The cartography was straightforward: free enterprise on one hand, political science on the other. Separate and distinct arenas.

Sure, every intermittent election cycle brought with it the usual campaign checks. That was only to be expected, and could be managed with relative ease. But what was once intermittent has become prevalent. Now, more often than not, the truth is that the business of politics is deeply intertwined with the politics of business, and vice-versa. Delineating the two is a tall order, and it’s hard to overstate how much more complicated the decision-making process has become for it. That’s true for executives and pols alike.

Constituents want their politicians to be business savvy; shareholders want their business leaders to have real political chops. How frequently did Donald Trump sell his negotiating skills and business experience as the singular advantage he held over his rival presidential hopefuls? That resonated with Americans, and they voted in kind.

And in the aftermath of Trump’s election—he’s only been in office some two months, but yes, aftermath feels like the appropriate word—we’re seeing the borders between politics and business blur even further. C-Suite executives make up the majority of the presidential cabinet. (“Government Sachs,” anyone?) Obama appointees are fleeing to the well-appointed coffers of promising company upstarts like Uber. It’s a stunning migration, really.

But at the end of the day, how does experience and expertise in one field lead to success in the other?

I’ve worked in business. I’ve worked in politics. My history with both is extensive, I think it’s fair to say. But to spare you the details, I’ll summarize briefly: I’ve lived my professional life where private meets public. Most recently, after serving as Executive Director at EMILY’s List, I joined the Democratic National Committee—not as a campaign manager or staffer, but CEO. That role was a far cry from the “pure” politics of old. The end goal was political, but so much of the day-to-day operations were business. I recognized then the significance of the intersection of public and private domains, and I recognize now that crossover has only become more encompassing.

The cross-fertilization of business and politics has tremendous upside: this exchange of perspective can catalyze a holistic, streamlined approach. A better understanding of the broader context brings with it a more effective path to action. But this junction brings new pitfalls, too, that one must take care to avoid.

The game-change is already well underway. But both sides have yet to have a frank, honest dialogue about what this means for business and politics alike. What are the implications? How to communicate them? How to best adapt and position ourselves for success in this new landscape? These questions have gone largely unanswered, and that’s a glaring oversight. But I believe my unique history allows me to speak to this with credibility on these issues to help bridge the gaps—operational and psychological—between business leaders and politicians.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of articles sharing my reflections on how business and political leaders can learn from each other, and equally important, avoid repeating each other’s mistakes. My hope is that this will be just one of many such conversations, because here’s the truth: the future is unfolding ahead of us… and we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

About Amy Dacey
Amy K. Dacey currently serves as the Executive Vice President and Managing Director, Washington, D.C. Office and National Public Affairs for MWWPR. Amy is a versatile, forward-thinking, and influential leader with a history of success in providing and communicating a clear vision, setting strategic direction, and serving as a catalyst for positive change to further organizations’ missions, values, and goals.

Prior to joining MWWPR, Amy served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee and the Executive Director of Emily’s List.