With the presidential campaign heating up, Americans have begun debating who should be the next occupant of the Oval Office. As usual, many have emphasized the need for business expertise to manage the country. Perhaps it's not surprising that real estate tycoon Donald Trump is leading Republican polls, while Rupert Murdoch and others have called for Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and founder of the Bloomberg media empire, to cast his hat in the ring.
On that note, we asked four Motley Fool analysts to name a CEO they'd like to see aspire to higher office.
Jeremy Bowman (Howard Schultz): Howard Schultz, the man who created and grew Starbucks(NASDAQ:SBUX) into one of the most influential brands and organizations of the last generation, is one name I'd like to see on the ballot. Not only has Schultz displayed the business acumen that would benefit the next president, but he's also proven to be an unabashed risk-taker with the canny to balance the needs of different constituencies and tackle the nation's problems. Customers love Starbucks, because it created and spread the high-end coffee experience it's known for, an experience that did not exist at such a large scale in the United States previously. Its employees, meanwhile, are better-compensated than their peers in the fast food industry, and the company offers many benefits for its workers.
Earlier this year, the company took a big step forward on behalf of its employees with a program to allow them to attend college for free at Arizona State University's online program. In doing so, Schultz took on one of the most pernicious problems in American society today, inequality and the high cost of education, making a very real difference in the lives of the approximately 100,000 company employees who do not have four-year degrees.
Schultz has also shown he's unafraid of confronting the racial divide in the U.S. with the Race Together initative, which encouarged baristas to engage customers in a "conversation on race" in order to foster a broader national conversation on the touchy subject. Though the program was mocked by some, Schultz deserves kudos for shining a light on an issue that is all too often ignored. On a similar note, he recently hosted a jobs fair with the rapper Common in an attempt to employ 100,000 disadvantaged youth.
With just his coffee company at his disposal, Schultz has already had a positive influence on some of the key challenges in the U.S. Imagine what he could do if he had the federal government backing him.
Daniel Kline (Satya Nadella): If you can ignore the technicality that he was not born in the United States and therefore is not actually eligible to be president, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella would be an excellent pick for the job. In his relatively short time in the position since taking over for Steve Ballmer, Nadella has shown a willingness to make tough, unpopular decisions, and he has made big changes without angering his core constituency of employees and stockholders.
The most tangible impact of the new CEO has been his willingness to bring Microsoft products to wherever users are. That has meant aggressively bringing Office to iPads and iPhones as well as Android devices. That was a process that began under Ballmer, but Nadella embraced it across the company’s entire product line.
It used to be that for the most part, you needed the Windows operating system to access the vast majority of Microsoft’s offerings. That is no longer true, and it has been the new CEO leading the charge.
Before Nadella, Microsoft was a dinosaur -- a company out of touch with its user base and the market in general. It was still operating as if the public needed products like Windows and Office even though the monopoly ship had long since sailed.
Now, people see Microsoft as a dynamic company that embraces the current reality. Getting there in such a short time shows that Nadella has the thoughtfulness and the forcefulness to get people where they need to be.
He could do the same for the country, making changes that are needed rather than being married to the conventions of the past. Imagine letting the man who was willing to admit that Windows 8 was a mistake plot a new path for Social Security, healthcare, and even the Internal Revenue Service. Nadella has shown that he could do so, stepping on some toes along the way but ultimately bringing the nation to a better place.
Rich Duprey (T.J. Rodgers): Do a search for the name, T.J. Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY), and one of the most common phrases you'll find associated with the libertarian executive is "outspoken." He's someone who tells you exactly how he feels and what he believes. You might not agree with everything he says (or anything at all, for that matter), but even the most diehard cynic appreciates knowing where he stands. Rodgers is not the type to give you a poll-tested answer, which is what America needs right now in the Oval Office.
If you look at the two major party presidential candidates gaining the most attention -- Donald Trump for the Republicans and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats -- you'll find they're similarly open with their views. You might not agree with them -- I don't -- but it's like a breath of fresh air in politics to hear candidates expressing their real opinions, not some carefully guarded doublespeak.
It was that kind of take-charge attitude that helped Rodgers drive Cypress to the pinnacle of its industry. As a manufacturer of specialized chips and memory primarily for non-Apple consumer electronics like smartphones and tablets, Cypress chips own the USB controller, SRAM, and non-volatile RAM markets.
It was because of Rodgers that the chipmaker was able to dramatically simplify embedded design and in the process, create the world's only programmable embedded system-on-chip. Now he's got his eye on the auto market, which he says is growing 50% faster than the broader industry. After its acquisition of Spansion, Cypress is the No. 3 chipmaker in the industry.
So not only does he have a vision of where his company is heading, but he also has one for the country too, decrying the crony capitalism of the right and the bankrupting, big-spending policies of the left. He's even taken on the "conscious capitalism" of another well-known libertarian CEO, Whole Foods Market's John Mackey, arguing that business improves the lot of society by maximizing shareholder value rather than performing charitable acts.
For T.J. Rodgers, laissez-faire capitalism is "a high calling," a sentiment in stark contrast to the typical political stump speech and a necessary tonic to what ails the nation.
Tamara Walsh (Indra Nooyi): If we are okay overlooking the fact she was born in India, the long-standing chief executive of PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), Indra Nooyi, boasts many of the key qualities required by the leader of the free world. For starters, Nooyi commands immense understanding of the global economy thanks to her nearly nine-year tenure at the top of PepsiCo. With more than $66 billion in annual revenue, PepsiCo is a global powerhouse, complete with 22 brands that each generates more than $1 billion in sales each year.
Her ability to stand up for what she believes in and not back down from a fight would make her a formidable contender to become the first female president. She went head-to-head with activist investor Nelson Peltz last year, for example, in a battle to keep Pepsi's fast-growing snack business together with its North American beverage segment. Despite aggressive attempts by Peltz's Trian Fund to convince Pepsi's board to spin off its snacks business, Nooyi emerged victorious, and Pepsi and its Frito-Lay business remain happily married today.
Moreover, Pepsi's stock has gained 38% since Nooyi took the helm in 2007, outpacing the S&P 500, despite slowing sales of sodas and junk food. Shareholders have Nooyi's forward-thinking leadership to thank for this success. When she took over the helm, she made a controversial shift at the time to focus on creating a portfolio of healthier products. Today, this is paying off in spades, as Pepsi's "better for you" portfolio of brands continues to attract customers from around the globe. Some of these brands include Quaker, Tropicana, Naked juice, and Sabra hummus.
From her unwavering integrity, perseverance, and commitment to the job at hand to her visionary approach to business, Indra Nooyi has all the markings of a great president.