It’s a big job – never-ending and all-consuming.
The U.S. President has been described as the ‘Leader of the Free World’ and the ‘Voice of the Nation.’ With their bully pulpit, American presidents have rallied and unified a slumbering and skeptical public. On finger on the button, the president rests another on the American pulse, always weighing what is prudent and possible. In many ways, they are a Rorschach, the person that everyone projects their hopes and grievances.
When Americans inaugurate a new president, they turn a page. Suddenly, there are new priorities and prescriptions – and everyone has an opinion. Everyone. That includes business school professors – be it economic policy or diplomatic strategy. In some cases, faculty have devoted decades of research to understanding the issues transforming business and society. Many times, they have operated on the front lines – as business leaders and technical experts – in harnessing these forces for the greater good.
What would these professors say to President-Elect Joe Biden? This week, Harvard Business School and the Yale School of Management reached out to their most distinguished thought leaders. Their goal: share the advice they would give to better connect a fractured electorate and address the threats facing the world. From high finance to bipartisanship, here is a sample of their thoughts.
Ask Us For A Better Version Of Ourselves
“It’s hard to overstate the positive business impact of government that embraces optimism, stability, and competence. The Biden-Harris administration embodies all of these traits, both in who they are as leaders and in the policy agenda they’re likely to usher through a more functional Congress. I expect them to be stewards of a brighter future where more Americans get an honest shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Everybody wins in that scenario.
My advice to Biden: Continue to reveal your deep devotion to America and its core values, but also ask us for a better version of ourselves. It will be the privilege and burden of President Biden to make sure that the bar for what we can achieve together is high and rising.”
Frances Frei, UPS Foundation Professor of Service Management, Harvard Business School
“Lack of competition is a broad-based and persistent problem in the U.S. economy today. Monopoly power is present in many sectors. We have monopoly power in the sale of drugs, devices, and hospital services in healthcare; providers of digital services that have monopolized their markets; buyers and suppliers of agricultural products that are virtual monopolies; and the list goes on.
A Biden administration can push for vigorous enforcement of existing antitrust laws, increased enforcement against monopsony power (that is, a market condition in which there is only one buyer) that harms labor, and an end to competition-harming regulations that are so prevalent in agriculture, transportation, and healthcare. Because the courts are responsible for much of the decline in competition, the most important step a Biden administration can take is to push for Congress to pass a stronger antitrust law. Congress needs to explain to courts that competition is an important American value and the cornerstone of a market economy that serves consumers, not capital, and it should direct courts to protect competition more vigorously.”
Fiona Scott Morton, Theodore Nierenberg Professor of Economics, Yale School of Management
Organize An ‘Ambidextrous Presidency’ With VP
“The new president will feel and be much compelled to shore up the core strengths of government. Our federal government must deliver with competence and strong coordination on all of its basic functions, especially these days. It also must find ways to be experimental and to explore new ways of working.
Mike Tushman and Charles O’Reilly have written of Janus, the Roman god who “had two sets of eyes—one pair focusing on what lay behind, the other on what lay ahead.” Striking this balance, Tushman and O’Reilly argued, requires “ambidextrous leadership” at the top of organizations.
Biden should tap his vice president as his second set of eyes, a pair that could make sure his administration is on the lookout for new ideas and that agencies are empowered and equipped to try them without wasting too much public treasure, time, and trust. Biden has indicated that Harris’s voice will be “the last in the room” when he is making crucial decisions. What could she ask as the last to be heard?”
- “Have we solicited many ideas; did we enlist outsiders and, yes, citizens in suggesting some?”
- “Have we identified uncertainties in our plans and devised ways of quickly testing to try to resolve them?”
- “Have we designed architecture for scaling, ideally so that users make other users better off?”
Mitchell Weiss, Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School
National Security Priorities
“The United States spends $11 billion a year on disease control and $175 billion on counterterrorism. There’s no more simple statement than this to illustrate how misaligned our priorities are with our problems. The bungled handling of COVID-19 (and Operation Warp Speed) is only one example. While China focuses on building a circle of development in Africa, the United States focuses on sending in special forces teams.
But the first thing the Biden administration should do is to terminate the endless wars the United States has gotten into over the past three administrations. I teach Yale College students who for their entire lives have known nothing but these endless wars. U.S. leaders have been trying to turn Iraq and Afghanistan into Vermont for two decades, and each year shows the futility of the whole effort. Yet it goes on. My advice for the next administration: end these pointless wars.”
Paul Bracken, Professor of Management & Professor of Political Science, Yale School of Management
Focus On Doing What Is Possible
“The most important impact Biden’s presidency is likely to have on business is a higher degree of stability and predictability. Many businesspeople thought elements of the Trump administration were favorable, such as a reduction in regulatory burdens and taking more aggressive steps toward foreign parties, especially China, who have consistently been behaving in ways that are damaging to US business interests. If you put aside feelings about partisanship and individuals, there were a number of things the Trump administration did that were supportive of business growth and economic growth.
But the volatility and dysfunctional relationship between trading partners and US institutions caused a lot of uncertainty. Specific companies or business sectors would suddenly find themselves the object of very aggressive, extreme criticism, not just by administration sources, but by the president publicly, which was unprecedented. Companies and sometimes entire sectors were subject to being called out. There was a randomness and arbitrariness to it that was disorienting. Similarly, companies with significant international operations would find themselves suddenly disrupted.
Companies were concerned about being caught in the crosshairs, and it caused them to question: What are the rules of the game? Companies like to know what the rules are and they like stability in those rules. I believe that businesses will welcome a higher level of certainty and predictability that I expect will come with the new administration.
In terms of leadership advice, first of all, we should all acknowledge that the country today is almost literally a 50-50 proposition. The Senate will be 50-50, and the Democratic majority in the House will be tiny. That is not the basis to pursue an outsized agenda for dramatic change, or for the introduction of policies that are very controversial. Passing programs like that requires some degree of consensus. One of the great challenges the president-elect will have is how to pursue his agenda while not contributing to a further period of sustained instability by implementing aggressive changes without a clearer mandate.
That should lead the Biden administration to consider areas like infrastructure spending, expanding domestic capacity in PPE and pharmaceuticals, steps to provide additional US intellectual property rights globally, changes to post-secondary education to support and expand areas like career and technical training, and encouraging expansion of research and development in the US. There are a lot of areas of common ground. And there are a lot of opportunities to do meaningful, important things that will benefit a lot of citizens. That’s a basis for collaboration and consensus, which is what one needs to focus on with a legislative branch that’s effectively tied.
One of the considerations for any leader is: What is possible versus what would I like to do? Good managers focus on doing what is possible. They think several steps ahead and consider how what they do will increase their odds of achieving their ultimate strategic goal in the future. And, they always respect the unknown. The world never unfolds in some scripted way, consistent with some “official future” on which plans were based. Any executive—business or political—should always marshal as much credibility and goodwill as possible in anticipation of having to deal with the unanticipated.”
Joseph Fuller, Professor of Management Practice in General Management, Harvard Business School