Business 101 or History of a Con

There are some very basic things that every one who wants to be a manager, let alone a CEO or leader of a major organization should know.

  • Your first job when taking over as CEO is to win over the workers.
  • You can’t effectively lead if the people in charge of implementing your strategy don’t believe that you know or care about what you are doing. And you’ll lose them if they think you are not selecting the most qualified people to get the job done.
  • You can’t shit on people, be them employees, customers or gatekeepers. If you do, you’ve lost them and you’ve lost.
  • If you are going to make a threat, you better be able to make good on it.
  • You can fire some people, but you can’t fire them all.
  • You can be tough once, you can be tough twice, but if you don’t deliver, you’ve lost forever. It’s hard to build a good reputation; it’s impossible to repair a bad one. And when you’ve got that bad reputation, the world becomes a very, very small place.

This is simple Business Administration 101, and that Mr. Trump doesn’t get Change Management is truly remarkable. This actually shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, even with all of his deal-making prowess and alleged business expertise. Mr. Trump has absolutely no experience managing anything other than a medium-sized family-owned business that sells little more than his brand name.

He may be a businessman, but he has certainly never been a CEO of a publicly traded company with shareholders and a market to answer to. He has never even been an employee or had a boss. Basically, he has never been told he was wrong or had to keep his word. Instead as president, Trump has:

  • Alienated professional bureaucrats with non-stop insults and scapegoating, apparently even running a witch hunt.
  • He shows no interest in details, just wants the victory.
  • He appoints people with no skill or background in the subject matter (ie, his daughter, son-in-law who you’re just going to love, and his personal bankruptcy lawyer).
  • He publicizes his own ignorance on a daily basis (ie, no one knows Lincoln was a Republican or that passing health care legislation was hard).
  • And he insults everyone, all the time.

Mr. Trump is even showing his incompetence when it comes to his signature, superior deal-making skills. As John Harwood twitted

He makes the mistake of thinking that he can live off charm and threats, like he’s a high school senior. I know this is Nancy Pelosi, but still she has a point:

“So far he’s acting like a rookie. It’s really been amateur hour,” she added. “He seems to think that a charm offensive or a threat will work — that saying ‘I can do this for you’ or ‘I can do this against you’ will work. That’s not the way it works. You have to build real consensus, and you have to gain a real knowledge of the policy — and the president hasn’t done either of those things.”

Even Obama wasn’t able to make good on his signature promise to close Guantanamo. But he didn’t whine and cry about the Deep State or that Republicans weren’t’ nice to him. If the Deep State didn’t exist, well Trump has just created them and given them power.

The fact of the matter is that Trump is over his head. He doesn’t know how to run anything other than his very simple brand-licensing business where his employees are his kids and where he’s suffered four bankruptcies. In part, that is why he thinks he can lie and get away with it. Paul Waldman in the Washington Post asks why Trump repeatedly lies:

So why is it that Trump feels comfortable repeatedly making this [promise to restore coal jobs] that no serious person, Republican or Democrat, thinks he’ll be able to keep?

I’d argue that the answer lies in Trump’s unique experience as a businessman. In his particular corner of the business world, you really can create wealth just by managing public perception — or at least he could. This was the theory of his entire career, that by fashioning a public persona that was as much of a caricature of wealth and success as Scrooge McDuck, he could turn himself into the picture he was painting. The more people saw Donald Trump as the embodiment of wealth, the more they would want to invest in his projects and buy his products, which would in turn make him wealthier. Making ridiculous promises and outright lying were all part of creating the image; one of my favorite examples is how Trump Tower is 58 stories high, but he numbered the floors up to 68 so that everyone would think it was taller than it is.

And it worked, even if not to quite the extent he claims. Over time, the Trump Organization became less about actual real estate development and more about brand licensing, where he would give someone rights to use the Trump name and its association with garish conspicuous consumption, take little or no risk and just collect the fees. It’s a good business, but it’s not the same as politics. Brand management is certainly important to political success, but if you’re the president, you have to deliver for people, and deliver on things such as health care, which are complex and require difficult trade-offs.

There’s another key difference between Trump’s business experience and politics. When he conned someone, like the attendees of Trump University, no matter how unhappy they were he could move on to other marks (even if he might have to pay his victims off if the courts caught up with him). It was a big world, and there were always other people who might be taken in by the next scam. But in politics, you have to go back to the people you made promises to the first time around, and ask them to put their faith in you again.

What concerns me is, as a I have mentioned with regards to the Russian scandal, not that Trump won the election because of evil Russians, but that Trump is so ego-blind that he sets himself up to be played at every corner. As Maureen Dowd writes about Trump’s Health Care fiasco:

You’re all about flashy marketing so you didn’t notice that the bill was junk, so lame that even Republicans skittered away.

You were humiliated right out of the chute by the establishment guys who hooked you into their agenda — a massive transfer of wealth to rich people — and drew you away from your own.

You sold yourself as the businessman who could shake things up and make Washington work again. Instead, you got worked over by the Republican leadership and the business community, who set you up to do their bidding.

That’s why they’re putting up with all your craziness about Russia and wiretapping and unending lies and rattling our allies.

They’re counting on you being a delusional dupe who didn’t even know what was in the bill because you’re sitting around in a bathrobe getting your information from wackadoodles on Fox News and then, as The Post reported, peppering aides with the query, “Is this really a good bill?”

You got played.

[Emphasis added]

But just when I am convinced that Trump is America’s biggest joke, that the thing that everyone who ever went to high school knows – that the tough guy bully is full of shit, is going nowhere, and self-destructs bald and bloated in the end. Just when I am convinced he’s too incompetent to be a tyrant. I then look at the facts from another angle, as I have seen a number of people doing on twitter:

And I think: imagine a movie about a guy who runs for president. He’s got the crowds on their feet. They’re chanting and enraged, “Lock her up, lock her up”.  And then he bravely declares, “I will repeal and replace Obamacare on Day One. It will be so easy.” The crowd goes will. They love him. He loves himself.

Day One comes. Then day two, three, four, and months go by. And of course she is never locked up, and Obamacare is not repealed or replaced, not to mention that Mexicans have not payed for the Wall.

But, his family makes a killing. Their business is soaring, and their expenses are paid for by the taxpayer.

I’d name that movie “History of a Con”.

It’s the United States of Suckers. We all just got conned. Not much of surprise. He’s been doing it his whole life.


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