Why Tech Leaders can’t Succumb to a Presidential Bully Pulpit

on January 16, 2017

Merriam-Webster defines a “bully pulpit” as:

Bully pulpit comes from the 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt, who observed that the White House was a bully pulpit. For Roosevelt, bully was an adjective meaning “excellent” or “first-rate”—not the noun bully (“a blustering, browbeating person”) that’s so common today. Roosevelt understood the modern presidency’s power of persuasion and recognized that it gave the incumbent the opportunity to exhort, instruct, or inspire. He took full advantage of his bully pulpit, speaking out about the danger of monopolies, the nation’s growing role as a world power, and other issues important to him. Since the 1970s, bully pulpit has been used as a term for an office—especially a political office—that provides one with the opportunity to share one’s views.

Roosevelt’s use of this term as an adjective and not a noun made the bully pulpit term OK for the time and, if the person using that pulpit for good, the term can be an endearing one. However, I am not sure we can see President-Elect Trump in that light yet, given his history of “blustering and browbeating” people to get his way.

I took a call from a reporter last week who was asking me about Apple’s decision to have their servers in a single data center location instead of at each of the major data centers they have around the US and the world. This will be done in Arizona and the reporter asked if Apple did this to help get a better position, in Trump’s eyes, by doing the manufacturing in the US. All told, it will only add 10-20 jobs and I told the reporter this was more strategic and had nothing to do with wanting to gain favor with Trump.

But other companies, such as Ford and Carrier, have made decisions to move jobs from planned facilities outside of the US back to America. On the surface, it does appear Trump “bullied” them into doing it. It seems very clear to me that Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, who met with Trump at Trump Tower and pledged to bring one million jobs to the US, had being in Trump’s good graces in mind.

Last week, Amazon announced they would add 100,000 jobs in the US. When this was announced, and because of Trump’s bully pulpit, I was asked by reporters if this decision was because of pressure from Trump or something more related to strategic growth.

I would hope it was because it was a strategic decision but I have a sneaky feeling Amazon and many others do not want to rile Trump. What he says and does from his “bully pulpit” could hurt them during his time in office. Let’s be clear: I am 100% behind creating more jobs in the US but I believe this should come as result of great business conditions, innovation, a true need for these companies, and that it is strategic to their business growth. I also believe they should not be doing it because they were bullied into it. I am of the school that believes bullying them to create jobs may be a temporary fix. Unless it’s done with the right motive, conditions, and strategy, it will not deliver the fundamental change needed for these jobs to be long lasting.

I believe strongly the tech industry and companies should not succumb to the bullying tactics of President-Elect Trump in any way when it comes to the issue of strategic planning, growth, innovation, and even jobs.

That does not mean they should not want to work with him and, when necessary, lobby to influence Mr. Trump’s policies so he and his administration do not stand in the way of growing our tech economy. But, if any of their moves are done just to placate Trump, then they are building foundations that will crumble under the weight of forced motivations. Unless strategic to their growth, it will set them back, not move them forward.

In a recent piece I did for Fast Company, I outlined my involvement with a council of independent tech influencers that helped shape President Bush’s tech agenda. In the article, I suggested some of the types of councils I believe President Trump needs to help him understand tech and, more importantly, use them to help develop a tech agenda of his own that would benefit his economic goals and get these companies to help support an agenda that moves our industry forward.

I believe working with President Trump in a civil, proactive manner should be the goal of every tech company but not kowtowing to him because he bullied them into some action. The tech industry needs the resolve to stand up against any bully pulpit and only do what is right for them to grow their market. Anything less than that won’t have a lasting impact on them or our industry.