U.S. Senate race in Georgia

The race between business executive David Perdue and Michelle Nunn, daughter of former senator Sam Nunn has been hard fought, and is closer than many expected in this red state. Republicans are working hard to tie Nunn to president Obama, while Democrats have recently received some red meat in the form of a deposition by Perdue in a 2005 legal proceeding involving his tenure at North Carolina textile company Pillowtex, which had sued to recover the $1.7 million that had been paid to Perdue during his nine months at the company.

Pillowtex had been in financial difficulty for some time, and Perdue was hired as a “turnaround” specialist. He spent only nine months at the firm, moving on to the Dollar General chain of discount stores when it was apparent that the Pillowtex rescue was not going to be successful. In the deposition, Perdue stated that he had spent “most of my career” outsourcing jobs.

Is David Perdue’s track record in business a bad thing? In one sense, the answer is “no,” because he was doing the job his bosses told him to do. Does this experience make him the better candidate to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate? Probably not, because he has never indicated any desire or inclination to look for ways for business to be successful while benefiting the spectrum of workers in the U.S., from CEO to factory floor sweeper. In Georgia (and in the U.S.), we need for as many citizens as possible to have jobs that pay enough to sustain a reasonable standard of living (and that is its own argument) and to remain off of public assistance.

There is a belief by some that the CEO of a corporation has a fiduciary duty to maximize return for the shareholders, no matter what it takes to achieve that end. That attitude reduces the corporation to a money machine, and indeed, for most investors no doubt that is the goal. With our 401-Ks invested in mutual funds, we only care about the bottom line on our quarterly statements. But many companies were founded to make a product or provide a service that was developed by an individual or team, not just a way to make money. Of course the goal was to make money, but at the core was the product or service itself. These days, sadly, the CEO is expected to focus on that bottom line only, and like David Perdue, will take any action to achieve the maximum return on investment.

A local Atlanta example paints a somewhat more responsible picture, in my view: back in June 2014 UPS appointed a new CEO, David Abney, who started with the company as a part-time package loader in 1974. (The immediately preceding CEO, Scott Davis, wasn’t considered a UPS “lifer,” although he had been with the company for 22 years.) The CEO from 1997-2001, James Kelly, came up through the ranks and, as the story goes, kept his “browns” (his UPS driver’s uniform) in his office to remind him of the company’s core – the delivery of packages. The point is, some companies, and some people, engage in an enterprise because they love the product or the service . . . the work itself. If they are successful, wealth may follow.

I don’t think that David Perdue cared one bit about the companies or the people he managed. He had been hired by ownership entities to achieve a financial result, period. If he could now demonstrate that he could offer new policies and ideas based on this experience – ideas that would support U.S. manufacturing and improve the lives of all of his proposed constituents, then he may have a chance. If he continues to operate strictly as a bottom-line-at-any-cost businessman, he may just lose this election.

 

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