May 27, 2009
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.