About ten years ago I listened to a great Tony Robbins CD. In it he talked about how when things were lousy you need to do something to "change your state." It made sense to me. So now if I'm in a funk about something and I'll do something to change my state. Like going to the batting cages. Or working out. Or just driving around blasting music. Hey, you have no idea how inspiring ABBA can be.
As a small business owner (and a Republican who...gulp...voted for President Obama) I now see the need to change our state. I had the hope. But I realize I was kind of a dope. Check my business bank account and you'll see why.
I like the President. And it's not that he hasn't tried to help small businesses. He's pushed through lots of small business-friendly legislation. His heart's in the right place. But his belief that government, and not business, is the answer to our economic challenges has hurt my company.
Why? Because in the past three years my hair has grown faster than the economy (hint: check out my photo.) Our deficits are terrifying. New taxes to fund more government solutions are looming in 2013 and 2014. The regulations proposed from healthcare reform to FDA rules and environmental restrictions on oil exploration have not helped my customers (or their savings) during this recession. It's all with the best of intentions. And the worst case of timing.
No one, particularly business people, wants to spend money or risk their capital in this kind of environment. Which is why everyone I talk to is sitting on their cash, instead of buying technology from me. It's time to "change my state."
So first, I must choose from among one of the Republican candidates who will run against President Obama. Who would be the best for my small business?
For the moment, let's forget about abortion, gay marriage and who loves God the most. Let's put aside foreign policy, terrorism and Guantanamo Bay. Of course these issues are important But right now the most important issue to me is how I'm going to pay for my three kids to go to college in two years. Thank God they're not even smart enough to get into one of those expensive, private ones either.
I can't consider Bachman, Santorum, Gingrich, Huntsman and Paul right now, mostly because at the moment they're just too far behind. I'd like to consider them (particularly Gingrich and Huntsman) but I have to be realistic. I'm not convinced that Rick Perry (no matter how many drinks he had last Friday night) was the real reason behind Texas' economic performance (call me crazy, but it kind of seems like it was oil, and not the Governor, who created all those jobs.) To me, and my small business, the two main candidates are Cain and Romney. Given this week's news about Cain's alleged sexual harassment(s), I'll assume his wife hasn't beaten him senseless by the time primaries roll around.
Sexual shenanigans aside, Cain is certainly refreshing. I think he's honest. But then again I thought Clinton was honest. Cain is real. I like him. He wants big changes. That's exciting. His opponent is not. No doubt Romney is smart. Experienced. Rich. But he's not proposing the kind of sweeping changes that Cain likes to talk about. Romney is boring.
And you know what? That's exactly what small businesses like mine need in 2012: Lots and lots of...boring. I will vote for Romney.
For starters, I prefer his background. Sure, Cain came from very humble beginnings. His father was a barber, janitor and chauffeur. Meanwhile, Romney's father was CEO of American Motors Corporation, the Governor of Michigan and an advisor to Nixon. These were not humble beginnings. This was a life built on wealth and privilege. And you know what? I like that.
Why? For the same reason I like to read People magazine and watch the "Real Housewives." Wealthy people are more fun. They understand money. Romney's been in and around the political and business elite for decades. He grew up in a political household. He is not an outsider. Outsiders are never good Presidents. Carter and Obama were outsiders. Kennedy and Reagan were insiders. Outsiders are viewed with disdain by the people who are actually running the country. Notwithstanding all the rhetoric over the past couple of years, it's the people with wealth who spend money on the things that small businesses like mine sell. These same people are the ones who provide capital to startup and growing companies so that they can grow even wealthier. They are the ones who invest in our markets. They employ contractors and laborers and mechanics and small business service providers to support their homes and companies.
Romney is part of this class. By jove, he is even viewed as a friend to this class. "Huzzah! Huzzah!" they will chant if he is elected. They will breathe a sigh of relief. They will feel like they have a friend in the White House. And they will be willing to take capital risks once again. Because the biggest reason why our economy has been so stagnant is that the wealthy people who hold all the money have been reluctant to spend their cash in such an investment-unfriendly environment. Cain would also be greeted warmly by this class. But not as warm as Romney.
Which brings me to the deficit. And taxes.
Like all the candidates, Cain and Romney want to lower taxes. But Romney is so...boring about it. And you know what? Again, as a small business owner, I like that! He has no big, splashy tax plan. He's kept his deficit control position under the broad framework of "ending deficit spending" and "reforming entitlement spending." He'll probably get more specific as the campaign progresses. But for now he's clearly keeping his options open.
Which is a businessman's approach. Cain's "999" plan, while innovative (and media-friendly), is too much. And Romney knows that. He's not naïve enough to think that Congress will go for scrapping the entire tax system. He'll propose changes to the existing system. As a businessman, he understands that small business guys like me don't want revolution. We just want improvement. We would never say "That product line is unprofitable. Let's tear out all the machinery and fire all the people working on it and start from scratch!" We work to make it better it over time. The tax code isn't like "Two And A Half Men." The tax code can actually be improved.
Romney also knows the limits of his intelligence. Cain is definitely a smart guy with good advisors. But we've all seen lots of smart guys over the past few years drive their companies into extinction. I'm not comfortable that Cain and his team are smart enough to have figured out all the effects of his 999 proposal. Who could? Not even President Obama, who's also a really smart guy, could have considered all the effects of healthcare reform. And the last thing we need at this point is more experiments. Particularly with our tax code.
Small businesses really don't like surprises. We just want a good environment in which to do business. Romney's approach is boring, I know. But I prefer it.
Cain worked many years in the corporate world and we all know by now that he became the CEO of Godfather's Pizza and the President of The Restaurant Association of America. He's supervised thousands of people throughout his corporate life, proving his ability to manage. He knows what it's like to run a big corporation He has an understanding of the concerns of business that President Obama never had. The guy would definitely be a friend to my small business.
But Romney's business experience has been different and, in my opinion, better. At Bain Consulting, Romney made his money by advising, and ultimately investing in companies that could make him money. Like Staples. His specialty was turning companies around and growing them. He was a problem solver. And not a dummy. I love President Bush but let's face it: he pretty much drank his way through Yale. Romney graduated in the top 5% at Harvard Business graduate school. His management skills arguable saved The Salt Lake City Winter Olympics from collapse. He knows how to run organizations.
By way of political experience, Romney wins again. Not only did he grow up in a family of politicians, he (like so many of us) went into the family business: politics. He was a governor (OK, it was Massachusetts. But that's close enough). He knows what it's like to negotiate and kiss a little you-know-what. He's grown a political thick skin. He's learned that in politics, it's not always what the boss wants. It's what the boss can persuade others to give him. I don't think Cain has had that kind of experience. Because he calls himself a straight shooter, Cain can come across as abrasive. He seems used to getting his way. That's not always going to happen in Washington.
"Corporations are people" Romney once famously said at a campaign stop to the mocking of both hecklers and the press. "Everything corporations earn goes to people." During these anti-business, "fat cat" times that we live in, it's nice to be reminded that the evil corporations are the ones employing people, producing products and creating wealth. They are not nameless, faceless objects to tax and regulate. Romney had the guts to say that. He got a lot of abuse for it. But he never backed down. He gets it.
I know. Sounds boring. Exactly!