Just a few weeks ago, Barack Obama was sworn into office and took the helm of the ultimate startup—the United States of America.
Chosen by the majority of our country’s “shareholders” for his entrepreneurial spirit, understanding of technology and strategic vision, President Obama understands well that small ideas and dreams can transform into monumental successes. The company he needs to grow, let’s call it USA Inc., is fraught with challenges but poised for growth.
Yet, President Obama has previously distinguished himself as the CEO of several other startups that became major operations: his campaign and transition teams. Both of those operations will be viewed by Democrats and Republicans alike as one of the best, if not the best, of its kind. But as it was then, and as it is with all startups, failure is always an option.
As venture capitalists understand, success is contingent upon a competent and cohesive management team. President Obama has assembled an eclectic group of longtime Washington insiders and notable fresh faces to join his administration and run the country. There is a certain amount of calculated risk when choosing these leaders, but each selection sends a message and it is worthy of pondering a few:
Director of R&D
Obama’s selection of Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, as Secretary of Energy was one of his more surprising choices. The obvious question is: Can an academic manage a federal agency? Yet, Chu’s appointment symbolizes Obama’s understanding of the importance of research in clean technology innovation. More importantly it suggests that the federal government has a critical role to play in supporting and funding such research.
Head of Human Resources
Chosen by the majority of our country’s ‘shareholders’ for his entrepreneurial spirit, understanding of technology and strategic vision, President Obama understands well that small ideas and dreams can transform into monumental successes.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Chu appointment was the selection of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle understands Washington inside and out and was present during the 1992 failed health care reform efforts. A deep appreciation for what went wrong back then will be monumentally important to doing it right this time around. Daschle’s appointment lowered the risk of failure to the project significantly but not entirely.
Chief Financial Officer
Mary Schapiro as Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission offers a great deal of promise given her extensive resume in the capital markets and as a regulator. We are hopeful that her experience will persuade her to take a serious inventory of the regulatory actions of the last 10 years and reassess each and every one for its effectiveness and consequences. The respect she commands and the dire straits our markets are in will allow her to white-board more than her predecessors.
VP of Business Development
Though not as high profile, Karen Gordon Mills’ selection as the head of the Small Business Administration could prove to have the most impact on startups. A former venture capitalist, Mills brings a new perspective to the SBA and recognition of the importance of innovation in ongoing U.S. competitiveness. Small business success does not require that a business remain small. Our economic growth depends on this ideal, which Mills should understand well.
USA Inc. is facing an incredible amount of competition from other startups—China, India and others. There are business units in dire need of overhaul and others that are extremely promising. Meanwhile customers and suppliers are relentless in their needs and demands. Much like the CEO of a startup, President Obama will rely heavily on this management team to achieve success. His runway is four years. As shareholders of USA Inc., it behooves us to take a long-term investment perspective as there is much work to do. But the return can be immense.
Mark Heesen is president of the National Venture Capital Association. He may be reached at email@example.com.