CEOs Rate Obama's Performance

BusinessWeek

To some top executives, President Barack Obama is "rapidly socializing the United States." Others see his initiatives on everything from healthcare reform to the saving of GM as crucial for sparing the U.S. from even deeper economic trouble. We quizzed numerous leaders of small, medium, and large companies on how they think the President has done in his first six months in office. Some give him a failing grade; others, top marks. Read on to see what these business leaders think of the CEO-in-chief.

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Angela F. Braly

CEO, WellPoint, the nation's biggest health insurer

Employers are struggling to provide health benefits while remaining competitive in the global economy and many Americans worry an illness will devastate their financial security. Both are already bearing the brunt of an existing cost shift to private insurers from Medicare and Medicaid. Unfortunately, many in Congress are proposing to shift the burden even further by expanding government-run health care. As Medicare shows us, a government-run health plan would not address the underlying issues of cost and quality. Case in point: Medicare is predicted to be bankrupt by 2017.

The President is doing the right thing by bringing in leaders from hospitals, physicians, nurses, employers, advocacy groups, and private insurers, among others. Only by working together will we be able to develop a sustainable solution for America's health care system.

Michael S. Dell

Founder and CEO, Dell

There are some aspects of what is in the economic recovery act around broadband, healthcare, and IT spending that we think are good things. We're concerned, like many, that one word that seems to be missing from a lot of discussions is "competitiveness." How do all of these things make America more competitive? It's a word that should be used more in Washington.
Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

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Mohamed El-Erian

CEO and co-chief investment officer of Pimco

The most interesting thing is the mess he inherited and the extent he has to pursue two different agendas — there's the agenda he came in with and the agenda to stabilize a rapidly imploding US economy. The big gamble is that he has tried to pursue both simultaneously. That's going to define his first term. So far the evidence is mixed. On one side he has been able to stabilize the financial center and institute major structural reforms. And he still maintains enormous popularity with the American people.

On the negative side, the jobs picture is worse than anticipated, and unemployment itself is becoming a big policy challenge. It's going from being a lagging indicator to being a leading indicator. The major issue people are going to second guess in the next six months is his decision to pursue both agendas. Was that the right one or should have he done it sequentially?

He inherited a real mess, not just a mess, but one that requires him to make difficult decisions. I voted for Obama, and I'm a supporter. I've been impressed by how bold he has been on the political front, and how quickly he came up the learning curve in terms of the trade-offs involved. You see it very explicitly: Three weeks ago, for example, he talked about yes, fiscal stimulus was important and it avoided bigger problems — yet there are also longer-term fiscal sustainability challenges. The notion that we get is that he understands what the issues are and he's making active choices as opposed to reactive choices.

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Robert Greifeld

CEO, Nasdaq OMX

What I like is the fact that the President recognizes that we have a number of pressing issues and is endeavoring to attack or approach these issues with hopefully innovative solutions. The counterpoint to that is that you do grow concerned that they might try to do too much too soon or to overreach in a particular area and run the risk of rendering all efforts either neutered or ineffectual.

He's exceeded my expectations with respect to the managerial ability to craft and attempt to execute a wide-ranging agenda. I would have assumed that the natural realities of the office and what's required to move legislation would have narrowed the agenda.

Within the leadership of the business community, there is concern and I would say that the attitude is not so much wait-and-see, but wary. They're wary with respect to trade policy. They're wary with respect to tax policy and obviously are also concerned with the burden of health-care costs. There's a fair amount of trepidation in the business community and what the Administration policies might mean to their success in the future. In terms of the concern in the business community, I think, it is greater today than it was back in November.

On the stimulus package: I don't believe the stimulus has had a noticeable impact on the economy as of yet. I think it is somewhat misguided to be calling for additional stimulus. We need to get the stimulus that was approved into the economy, flowing through our different activities.

Jeffrey Katzenberg

CEO, Dreamworks Animation SKG

(Katzenberg was an early Obama supporter and is still very much in the President's corner.)

I don't think that any President in modern history has had to face a deeper or more difficult or more complicated set of issues from the first moment he set foot in the White House, and I think he has done an exceptional job of methodically working his way through that horrendous set of problems. He had to make a lot of decisions, and some of them will be wrong, but many, many of them will turn out right.

On tax hikes: Unfortunately, that's not been a level playing field and there has been an unhealthy concentration of wealth in this country. Those days are over.
Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

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Jeffrey B. Kindler

CEO, Pfizer

Obama's health-care reform is making more progress than a lot of people would have predicted. We're on the verge of a bill coming out of the House that's clearly going to happen. Right now there's some challenges in the Senate because of the potentially significant differences between the two committees there. The biggest challenge is this issue around the public plan. The other is how do we pay for it? Those are big issues. How they're going to get resolved within the time frame people have in mind, I'm not an expert on that. On any given day you'll hear harmony or disharmony. But yeah, I do sense a considerable amount of progress.

I do think that we have to accept the reality that the vast majority of the people in this country get their insurance from employers and if we create a system that provides an incentive for employers to not provide their employees with insurance, then under certain scenarios huge numbers of people under public option would move out of the employer system into the public system. That would not be a good outcome because it would impose a tremendous financial burden on the taxpayers.

W. James McNerney Jr.

CEO, Boeing

A level playing field for American companies and workers in international markets is more important than ever. I see clear evidence that the Administration understands the issue and its importance to U.S. economic health.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

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Duncan L. Niederauer

CEO of NYSE Euronext, operator of the New York Stock Exchange

The sense of optimism that is continuously communicated by the Administration is not only important, but necessary. The expectations for him generally speaking were so incredibly high when he took office. He's done a reasonably good job of living up to those. I have seen a number of instances where President Obama really is doing what we all hoped he would by reaching out to the stakeholders, decisionmakers, potential influencers, and people who have expertise in various arenas. I know a number of people, including myself, who have been invited to the White House for various discussions. A lot of leaders wouldn't do that. The President's communications skills are very strong, as you would have expected. But he and the Administration have taken on so much, they're multitasking beyond expectations. I do like the reaching-out approach. It will serve him very well as we tackle all these rather meaty issues.

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On tax policy: A place where I do not think they struck the right chord was on the tax proposal involving overseas earnings of multinational corporations headquartered in the U.S. The overwhelming view from that constituent group is that if that proposal were to go through, it would at best require a lot of U.S.-headquartered companies to eliminate jobs to reduce costs to make up for the increased tax burden. More challengingly for the United States, it would encourage a lot of these companies to contemplate being incorporated elsewhere and potentially moving jobs out of this country and moving headquarters and operations abroad. I hope the Administration listens to the feedback and reconsiders their position.

On regulation: We all know we need some regulatory reform here and to bring the opaque markets out of the shadows and into the light. But there's a real danger, in our view, that there ends up being excessive regulation that stifles creation of new business and new jobs.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Charles R. Schwab

Founder and Chairman, Charles Schwab, the San Francisco-based discount brokerage

We've got to restore business confidence. We've restored the individual's confidence. The banking system seems to be doing okay. What we haven't done is restore the confidence of the people who create the jobs. There are six million businesses with more than one employee. What would it take to get each one to hire one more? If I had a magic wand, I'd create some kind of incentive. The biggest uncertainty is: Where are taxes going to go? The quicker you bring certainty, the quicker you restore confidence.

Donald J. Trump

Brad Barket/Getty Images

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CEO, the Trump Organization

I would hire him. He's handled the tremendous mess he walked into very well. He still has a daunting task ahead of him but he appears to be equal to the challenge. He has kept his eye on both national and international issues and his visits to foreign countries have shown him to be warmly received, which is certainly a change from the last Administration. I believe he should pay more attention to OPEC and what's going on there, but overall I believe he's done a very good job.
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