Business Leadership in the White House: An Unscientific Assessment

During the US Presidential campaign, the then-candidate Donald Trump consistently touted his business credentials as an asset for how he would be successful as the nation’s Chief Executive. We have now experienced the Trump administration for over 60 days, and it is interesting to assess the manner in which he is governing compared to what we know to be the tenets of successful corporate leadership.
Leaving aside any perceptions about the policy ideas expressed by the administration, it is curious to see that the President’s approach is almost the polar opposite to that of successful corporate leaders.
Here at GlobeScan we have spent many years understanding perceptions of corporate leadership around engagement, communications, reputation management and corporate responsibility, and we are in a good position to highlight a number of key attributes of successful leadership – attributes that the President and his team appear to be ignoring.


GlobeScan’s research with consumers and stakeholders demonstrates the importance of transparency in driving trust and building positive reputations of business. Look at M&S and Patagonia’s approaches to transparency in their value chains and sustainability challenges, and compare this with the vagueness and misdirection over Trump’s continued ties to his businesses, his dealings with Russia, the perennial issue of his tax returns, and his administration’s use of “alternative facts.”

Diversity & Inclusiveness

Successful business leaders know that they need to take diversity and inclusiveness in the work place seriously. It is not only a risk to reputation if the company is highlighted as lagging in this area, but it also makes good business sense: gender-diverse companies are more likely to outperform competitors, and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform others. Compare this to Trump’s cabinet which is shaping up to be the least diverse since the 1980s, his executive action to take away protections from transgender citizens, the Muslim ban, and his overall narrow focus on his supporters rather than all Americans.


Listening to and engaging with differing perspectives and expectations of stakeholders (like our work for HPE) is the only way for businesses to endure in a volatile world. Look at the world’s most valuable company, Apple. Before 2012 the company was famously tight-lipped and unengaging on its energy sourcing and wider environmental impact. That was until Greenpeace launched protests at Apple headquarters. Apple could have retreated into its bubble, but instead, within days, announced plans to source 100% of its data center energy from clean energy sources and is now viewed in a leadership position and was praised by Greenpeace.

Contrast this with Trump seemingly brushing aside over 4 million people marching the day after his inauguration in the Women’s March, and comments that Republicans only need to represent Republicans in their constituencies and therefore ignore legitimate questions and protests from people who might not have voted for the President or his allies in Congress.


While always challenging, we know from our research that the most successful and trusted business leaders value collaboration across many aspects of their business strategy. Collaborations and partnerships with NGOs, companies in other sectors, and increasingly with competitors is viewed as essential to solving big problems that no single company can tackle alone. Contrast this with the Trump administration’s apparent disregard for age-old alliances and friends (bullying the Mexican President, hanging up on the Australian PM, and brushing aside NATO allies) to forcefully suggest that America will go it alone.


Our research into consumer views on purpose in business shows that an authentic and aspirational purpose demonstrating the value the company generates for itself and society is a positive driver of trust. Purpose serves to drive strategy, aligns and motivates staff through an inclusive vision, and provides a clear narrative through which to engage stakeholders.

President Trump’s purpose seems to fall down on many aspects. It is not aspirational (see his “American Carnage” inauguration speech), it is not inclusive, but seemingly seeks to divide people (Muslim ban, cynical and negative narrative around inner cities), and does not appear to be very authentic (the “drain the swamp” message to working class Americans vs packing his cabinet with more elite billionaires than ever before).

In June 2015 Donald Trump rode down that golden escalator in Trump Tower and declared that America needs “a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’” He holds his 1987 (ghostwritten) book in high regard, saying that politicians should read the book before they make a deal. But a lot has changed since then, the year of Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech in Wall Street.
Over the past 30 years of GlobeScan’s existence corporate leadership has changed dramatically. Corporate leaders have evolved to meet the realities of our globalized, technologically advanced, hyper-connected, fragile world. The best among them have evolved to be transparent, inclusive, engaging, and collaborative leaders with a clear idea of their company’s purpose and how it can benefit society. And they are admired because of this.
Ultimately, it may be that President Trump is bringing his own lessons of business into the White House. However, after observing over 60 days of his Presidency, we’d suggest that he might be using the wrong ones.