Warning: while this post deals with marketing strategy in terms of positioning, it comes from an anti-Trump and pro-Clinton perspective. I won’t make any small hands jokes, but that’s all I’m promising.
Donald Trump has captured the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination at least in part because of his business success. While detractors have pointed out his business failings, such as his multiple bankruptcies, his besieged Trump University and even his Trump Steaks Potemkin Village, few question his status as an avatar of business in the 21st century. “The business guy” has become the marketing position of his campaign.
I think we should question it, however.
Let’s compare Trump to the premier American business leaders of the 20th and 21st century. Off the top of my head, I think of people like Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs. Like or dislike these men personally (and, alas, I can’t think of any women business leaders of this stature), they have something key in common: they enriched people other than themselves.
Henry Ford famously paid his auto workers $5 per day, double what other factories paid. While the wage didn’t make his workers millionaires, it did allow many of them to buy the product they made, the Model T. Howard Hughes, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs built companies that did make many of their staff, usually management, millionaires. While Berkshire Hathaway has few employees, it has made billions by reviving brands such as Arrow Shirts and Benjamin Moore, creating middle-class jobs for thousands.
Even further, these business leaders built products that enriched their customers: Ford and Hughes by allowing people with modest means to travel the country and the world, Gates and Jobs by putting powerful computers on desks and laps and in pockets everywhere. What made them great is what made the lives of millions–perhaps billions–better.
Turning back to Donald Trump, whom has he enriched? His riches, such as they may be, have come from homes he’s built for people who already have millions.
Even more fundamentally–and I say, scarily–he’s changed the nature of the way that many see business leaders. At bottom, Trump speaks to his positioning as a business leader as a series of deals with clear winners and losers. His language brooks no “win-win” situations, only “killings” and “ripoffs.” His voters cheer those words as business gospel. While he’s established political position as “business leader,” he’s developed a business brand of “ripoff.”
In other words, even his proponents admire him for making himself rich, not for enriching anyone else.
While few business leaders honestly put making the world a better place before profits, the ones we admire somehow managed to do both. This enlightened self-interest made business leadership an attractive and even patriotic proposition in the postwar era, when “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country” became a (misquoted) mantra.
Of course, we no longer extend business leaders the benefit of the doubt, nor should we. On the other hand, we should expect more of our business leaders than failed casinos and gold-plated jets. In short, I believe that while Trump might represent some scary things about our country, he also represents scary things about the state of business in our Republic.