A new Washington D.C. office of the School of Management’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute hopes to unite the public and private sectors to brainstorm ways to approach the United States’ economic and political challenges.
The new office, the SOM’s sole presence in the nation’s capital, located within sight of the U.S. Capitol at 101 Constitution Avenue, will replace a similar office in Atlanta that organized events for business executives in various industries, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean of executive programs for the SOM. Sonnenfeld said the move to Washington D.C. will facilitate the organization of events involving government officials, adding that on Tuesday the office held its inaugural event, the “CEO Caucus,” which focused on U.S. economic and employment issues.
“I think it’s important for every business leader to throw their keys in the middle of the table and think about love of country and loyalty first,” said Lynn Tilton ’81, CEO of Patriarch Partners, a firm that acquires and attempts to reinvigorate failing American companies. “If everyone could stick company interests and self-interest each in one pocket and think about national interests, I don’t think there is a problem that this nation faces that could not be easily solved.”
The Chief Executive Leadership Institute was established over 20 years ago as the first educational center for CEOs in the United States and organizes summits in cities worldwide, including Mumbai and Shanghai.
The challenge of creating jobs, which was discussed at the first caucus, is one example of an issue that requires cooperation of business and government, Tilton said.
Still, Sonnenfeld said the CEO Caucus was intended primarily to foster discussion between participants, rather than to produce concrete policy recommendations.
“[Making policy recommendations] is what everybody else does in Washington — enough of that already!” Sonnenfeld said. “Instead, this is about people who are men and women of action who are actually doing something with their own businesses, rather than putting their feet up on the desk and conjecturing about how government can work better.”
Christopher Shays, a former Republican congressman from Connecticut who was in attendance, said the event’s lack of emphasis on policy allowed for the politicians in attendance to view issues from a more practical, business-oriented perspective.
Thomas Quinlan, president and CEO of RR Donnelley, a Fortune 500 company that provides printing and print-related business services, said the event encouraged participants to better understand to each other’s perspectives. He said he hopes that in the future, lawmakers will be more mindful of how their policies impact businesses.
SOM Professor Lisa Kahn, who attended the event, said she thought the business leaders and politicians found common ground more often than they disagreed.
Jared Middleman ’13, a student volunteer for the event, said Sonnenfeld, who served as an “emcee” at the caucus, effectively engaged the participants when their professional backgrounds could provide pertinent insight.
“[Sonnenfeld] makes sure he’s involving everyone or almost everyone who wants to be involved in the discourse,” Shays said. “Nobody dominates.”
Shays added that Sonnenfeld used “clickers” similar to the ones commonly employed in college lecture courses to gauge the opinion of the Caucus’ participants.
Attendees at the event included Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell and JCPenney Executive Chairman Mike Ullman. Business executive attendance at the roundtable is capped to 35 CEOs, and the group intends to hold roundtable discussion every three months, Sonnenfeld said.