Mitt Romney's time spent as CEO of Bain Capital has both candidates debating the value of top-level corporate experience to the presidency. The New York Times noted Thursday that Romney touts his experience as proof of his ability to create jobs while Barack Obama seeks to portray that experience in a negative light, suggesting Romney is an out-of-touch millionaire.
If elected, Romney would be unusual among U.S. presidents for his background as a corporate Chief Executive Officer.
Recent Presidents' Backgrounds
Obama had no executive experience prior to his election. His resume is hardly unique among presidents in that regard. Looking back at past presidents, George W. Bush was the sole holder of a Masters in Business Administration, Reason noted back in 2005. He had served as the chief executive officer of Arbusto Energy, an oil company he co-founded, and its successor, Spectrum 7, according to NNDB. Arbusto failed, while Spectrum 7 almost followed suit.
With the exception of George Bush, no recent president came to office from the corporate CEO track. His father President George H.W. Bush did serve as president of a CIA commercial cover, Zapata Offshore Oil before assuming a political career.
Neither Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson nor John F. Kennedy was a corporate CEO before ascending to the presidency.
Relevance of CEO Experience to the Presidency
Columnist David Brooks wrote about the relevancy of CEO experience to the presidency for the New York Times in January. He said CEO competency is founded on administrative experience more suited to a mayor than a president. A look at CEOs who moved into politics shows little correlation between business and political success, he said.
The Christian Science Monitor's Walter Rodgers also noted the skill differences need to run a corporation and serve as president. Walters said, "CEOs tend to be single-minded people who clear mine fields. The mines they want cleared are taxes and government regulations."
Walters pointed out that CEOs operate secretly with little obligation to work for the public good. Successful politicians like former President Ronald Reagan, by contrast, "…could charm the bark off a tree. [They] have symbiotic relationships with the citizenry, and they know how to read polls and the public pulse."