Small business lessons that Barack Obama never learned…

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Last year I was having a conversation with a friend who runs a small business that employs about a half a dozen people and does a little over a million dollars a year in revenue. She came onboard about two years after the recession pummeled the business and they’ve been basically flat since, but they’ve survived, something many of their competitors did not.

She was telling me that she was worried there was not going to be enough money in the bank at the end of the month to cover payroll. At the same time she was having problems with a couple of customers, who, in their niche market, often talk to one another. In that market, once you get a tarnished reputation it’s very difficult to overcome. And, as if bending over backwards for pretentious customers wasn’t enough, she also had to deal with employees who were pestering her for more hours, despite the fact that sales simply couldn’t support them.

Some time later I talked with her and she had weathered the storm. She was able to make payroll, satisfy the irksome customers with a smile and challenge her employees to “help me figure out a way to give you more hours by showing me how you can increase our sales”. Interestingly, the absentee owners talked with her amidst the tumult and heaped praise on an ex manager who was interested in possibly returning.

My friend was a bit disheartened that while she had been able to right the ship and keep it in the black after the downturn, the owners seemed to be looking beyond her. Knowing the owners, I told her she had nothing to worry about. While the owners were talking quite glowingly about the ex manager, there was no way they would ever put him in charge of their store again. Although he was a gregarious fellow and he could schmooze customers with the best of them, and was a great friend to the owners themselves, his sales record was less than spectacular. Customers would walk out of the store having greatly enjoyed themselves, but rarely with purchases. In addition, all of those things that are necessary to make a business successful: book keeping, inventory control, accounts payable, accounts collectable and so much else, he was terrible at. In addition, he had left them in a lurch when he changed jobs on short notice. I told my friend that while they owners might sit in their perches and say nice things about a gregarious ex employee, they knew very well that their business was in incredibly capable hands with her, and that there was no way they were going to give up the solid success that she had built for the flash of someone who could do none of the things she had achieved, regardless of how much he made them smile.

As I am wont to do, I used politics as a backdrop. I told her that she’d probably make a better president than Barack Obama. She looked at me quizzically. I told her that she had actually run a business, had to deal with making a payroll and running that business under the constraints of limited resources, something that he had not only never done, but something his actions demonstrated clearly he had no idea how to do. Unfortunately, unlike the owners of her store, the American people are sometimes not very prudent. They find someone they like for one reason and then they elect them to a job for which they are utterly unqualified. Barack Obama is a perfect example of that. While he might have been an effective community organizer, he had neither experience nor an apparent aptitude for actually running anything. Just because someone is good at one thing doesn’t mean they’d be good at everything. Take John McCain. He was a great war hero who showed great honor and bravery. But that doesn’t mean he would have made a good president… in fact, he probably would not have. And it’s the case at all levels in all kinds of jobs. Just because someone is a good cop doesn’t mean they would make a good Chief of Police. Just because someone is a good programmer doesn’t mean they will make a great CEO.

In my friend’s shop the situation was simply that while the ex manager had been able to make people smile and feel good about themselves, he was terrible at the business of actually running the business. That is exactly Barack Obama with the country. He said the things that made many (although not all) people feel good and smile, but he’s an abysmal failure at actually running the country.

At the end of the day I told my friend that the shop’s owners made the decision to put substance above style when they brought her in. While they may speak wistfully of having someone who made them smile and gave them a laugh, they understand that their continued prosperity is based on having someone in charge who can actually run the business. In 2012 the American people chose just the opposite. Rather than going with someone who was boring, but was a management genius who created billions of dollars of value and hundreds of thousands of jobs, they went with someone who said what they wanted to hear despite his four years of demonstrated managerial incompetence.

It’s no surprise that businessowners, whose livelihoods depend on actual success, choose substance over style when the chips are down while a majority of the American people, whose livelihoods increasingly have little to do with actual success in the real world, choose style over substance. There are more than a few lessons to be learned from that…

The product of a military family, growing up in Naples, Italy and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and being stationed in Germany for two years while in the Army, Vince spent half of his first quarter century seeing the US from outside of its own borders. That perspective, along with a French wife and two decades as a struggling entrepreneur have only fueled an appreciation for freedom and the fundamental greatness of the gifts our forefathers left us.

3 Responses to “Small business lessons that Barack Obama never learned…”

  1. 1

    Nanny G

    Thanks for this.
    I especially liked this:

    “…. a majority of the American people, whose livelihoods increasingly have little to do with actual success in the real world, choose style over substance.”

    I think it really is a majority of VOTERS, but it is also getting close to being a majority of Americans, too.
    That’s why Obama won over Romney.
    Kevin Williamson wrote an essay about income inequality the other day.
    He pointed out how Obama and his occupiers make hay out of stats like:
    The Walton family (owners of WalMart) have more wealth than 40% of Americans.
    But Williamson teaches us the whole story that Obama hides:
    If you have ONE PENNY of wealth (savings) you have more wealth than 25% of Americans.
    See, 25% of us have NO SAVINGS or are in debt!
    The next 25% of us have less than 43,000 in savings at the top end of that group, one penny at the bottom end.
    So, adding it all up, naturally the Waltons have more than that 1st 40% of Americans.
    Other bitter lessons from small business Obama needs to learn:
    *There really is scarcity, owning printing presses don’t change that truth.
    People really have to choose between things they need and things they want.
    Government projects aren’t provably worthwhile.
    Many we have clung to are proving to be simply costly (hiring employees) but not beneficial. (Head Start, extended unemployment, etc.)

    *Because small businesses must respond to supply and demand, they must create products people would need or desire more than the money they have.
    Government simply forces people to take part, thereby forcing bad trade-offs on us all.

    *Like that ”broken window,” parable, money spent for one thing is money that cannot be spent on other things.
    It is gone.

  2. 2


    This is why affirmative action makes no sense, especially in today’s business climate. Businesses have to have the most qualified, productive employees possible in order to survive and compete. To exclude someone from consideration for employment for reasons that have nothing to do with competence is economic suicide.
    The first question in an employer’s mind should be “Can you do the job to my standards?”, not “Do I need you to fill out a quota?”
    Anyone who argues that quotas are necessary is arguing that protected classes are not fit to compete.

  3. 3


    yes, and unfortunetly the businesses are loosing if they leave behind a class of felons,
    who have long pass done their felony which WAS AND is not a danger to society,
    THEY CARRY A suitcase full of learning high top notch knowledge, and have qualities exceding the request standard of those business, who would profit immensly by hirering them,
    but many are not doing it, or they are not telling their personal who’s task is to hire them
    if they are willing to endorse their rigid standart of their business, and demonstrate a will to take on their shoulder the full demand of that company who would benefit just having them to show what they have which is so much, on many facets of a business requirment,
    those have paid dearly for their errors and deserve a work, the work, they are seeking to make their living by it, and raise their family,
    it’s up to the business to do their share in that human market open to them by close to a million out of work felon who desperatly look for that special place in the sun, so to give their knowledge,
    without restraint, they become full interested and benefit the company giving them the chance to prove it,

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