May 27, 2009

Book Short: Entrepreneurs in Government

Book Short:  Entrepreneurs in Government

Leadership and Innovation:  Entrepreneurs in Government, edited by a professor I had at Princeton, Jim Doig, is an interesting series of mini-biographies of second- and third-tier government officials, mostly from the 1930s through the 1970s.  The book’s thesis is that some of the most interesting movers and shakers in the public arena (not elected officials) have a lot of the same core skills as private sector entrepreneurs.

The thesis is borne out by the book, and the examples are interesting, if for no other reason than they are about a series of highly influential people you’ve probably never heard of.  The guy who ran the Port Authority of New York for 30 years.  The guy who built the Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines.  The head of NASA who put a man on the moon.

The biggest gap I identified between the success of these individuals and business entrepreneurs is the need for cultivation of direct relationships with congressional leaders, true in almost all cases.  I’m not sure there’s a proper analog — shareholders, maybe — but that’s clearly a skill that is required for the heads of agencies to succeed with their political patrons.

It’s an interesting read overall, particularly if you’re an entrepreneur who is considering a future career change into government.

5 responses to “Book Short: Entrepreneurs in Government”

  1. Jacob says:

    Might a better parallel be a good working relationship with the board?

  2. It’s as close a parallel as there is, but it’s still not great.  The Board is a small number of usually CEO-chosen (to some extent) individuals who are close to the company and decision-making, where interests are usually totally aligned.  Congressional oversight is missing all three things – selection, proximity, and alignment.

  3. Jeremy says:

    So does that mean you're considering a future career change into government? And when would you be running for NY City Mayor? 🙂

  4. the "founder" of the modern day venture capital business, General George Doriot, had a great career spanning public service, education, and entrepreneurship, including running a public company. you might like the book Spencer Ante wrote about him called Creative Capital

  5. RE: Jeremy commented on Book Short: Entrepreneurs in Government

    That's BlOOmberg, not BlUmberg!