Good Business Can Make for Bad Politics

By Chris Nolan  |  Posted 2005-03-23 Print this article Print

Opinion: Carly Fiorina probably didn't get the World Bank job because word that she was up for it leaked. And a political storm is brewing over real estate developer Robert Klein's stem cell committee.

Two events of the past week, both starring Silicon Valley heavyweights, provide useful lessons on making the transition from business to politics. Its like mixing oil and water. Sometimes, you gotta shake hard before you can get them together.
Late last week came the announcement that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina would not be President Bushs nominee to run the World Bank.
Theres also been a steady drumbeat of stories about the inability—or, unwillingness, its hard to tell—to play politics on the part of the folks who bankrolled and supported Californias $3 billion bond referendum for stem cell research. One the surface, these dont seem like the same issue. But dig a bit deeper. There are a few lessons to absorb here. Many of techs self-styled political leaders have a businesspersons view of the world: Theyre in charge, theyll do the job. If they dont, shareholders will let them know. But, the criteria for doing a good job are different for each group. Voters arent interested in making money; theyre interesting in not seeing their money wasted. Now, many readers wrote in and cited HPs current stock price as evidence that Fiorina didnt have the management chops to run anything. But thats probably not why she didnt get the job. No, Fiorina probably didnt get the World Bank job because word that she was up for it leaked before the White House was ready to spread the news. Read more here about early speculation about Fiorina being in the running to become the next World Bank president. In the business world, advance leaks can be a way to build credibility for an idea or a project. When a deal is done, theres no better way to make sure the pages get inked than to spread the word. Leaks are often used that way in politics, too. But not by this White House. Blabbing ahead of the news is a good way to take the done out of the deal and that, it seems likely, is what happened to Fiorina. This could mar her chance for other political appointments with this administration, for sure. And, of course, news of her interest in the World Bank job has sent a signal that she not interested in another corporate job. Probably not what was intended. Next Page: The stem cell storm.

Standalone journalist Chris Nolan runs 'Politics from Left to Right,' a political Web site at that focuses on the intersection of politics, technology and business issues in San Francisco, in California and on the national scene.

Nolan's work is well-known to tech-savvy readers. Her weekly syndicated column, 'Talk is Cheap,' appeared in The New York Post, Upside, and other publications. Debuting in 1997 at the beginnings of the Internet stock boom, it covered a wide variety of topics and was well regarded for its humor, insight and news value.

Nolan has led her peers in breaking important stories. Her reporting on Silicon Valley banker Frank Quattrone was the first to uncover the now infamous 'friend of Frank' accounts and led, eventually, to Quattrone's conviction on obstruction of justice charges.

In addition to columns and Weblogging, Nolan's work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Republic, Fortune, Business 2.0 and Condé, Nast Traveler, and she has spoken frequently on the impact of Weblogging on politics and journalism.

Before moving to San Francisco, Nolan, who has more than 20 years of reporting experience, wrote about politics and technology in Washington, D.C., for a series of television trade magazines. She holds a B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University.


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