What I Learned at a Harvard Dinner

Last Friday night, I attended the annual fundraising dinner for Chicago chapter of the Harvard Business School alumni club.  I came away with two election perspectives worth reporting.

First, the sense of excitement and optimism over Barack Obama’s election was more or less the same in this crowd as it was in Grant Park on election night.  The difference is that the HBS crowd probably votes 70-75% Republican in most elections.  So it came across as “I didn’t vote for him (or don’t want to admit that I did) but I’m glad he won.”  No moping, no doomsaying.  Pretty powerful evidence that a chasm has been bridged in America, at least for now.

Second, I got some comfort on one of the two major concerns I’ve had about Obama as President.  The concern is that despite his obvious talents, we don’t know if he can make an executive decision.  Sometimes you get JFK, sometimes you get Jimmy Carter.  (I should add that I was equally concerned about McCain on this front because his years of ‘experience’ are entirely as a sole contributor, not as a leader.  And clearly some of his choices during the campaign reflected poorly on his decision-making ability.)

I had the opportunity to speak with an executive who was involved in the Obama campaign at a very high of level and is a member of the economic advisory panel that Obama convened here last Friday.  He told me that he had the same concern about Obama two years ago, but has seen emerge a confident, capable leader whom he described as at least the equal of any corporate executive he knows.  This comes from someone who is a talented executive and has the ability to recognize that talent in others.

While this certainly is not definitive, it does provide some comfort.  I had, frankly, expected (and feared) something more like “He knows how to surround himself with good people.”   I’m glad I heard this instead.

This still leaves me with my other big fear – that we’ll wind up with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid running the country.  Whether President Obama has the desire and the horsepower to stop that is something we’ll start to know next May or June.

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