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Oct 03, 2016

How would Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fare as public company CEOs?

Leading the world’s biggest public company

Love them or hate them, come November 8, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be elected as the next president of the US. How they perform once in office will be closely watched, vigorously debated and likely parodied on Saturday Night Live. From foreign policy to the economy and education, each and every move the new president makes will be highly scrutinized… just like the CEO of a publicly traded company.

So while the US is not actually a public company, one could argue that it is like the biggest, most powerful public company in the world (sorry, Apple), and that the president is essentially the CEO. And this has started me thinking: how would Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fare as CEO of an actual publicly traded company?

I think everyone would agree Sarbanes-Oxley compliance would be an Achilles’ heel for both candidates. For Trump, his downfall would likely be Section 302, which requires the principal executive (CEO) and financial officers of public companies to certify that their quarterly and annual reports are accurate and complete. Based on the cat-and-mouse games he has played in terms of disclosing his personal tax returns, I find it inconceivable he would be willing to affix his John Hancock to legally binding and potentially prosecutable SEC documents.

Clinton’s downfall would likely fall under Selective Disclosure, defined as when a public company discloses material information to a single person, or a limited group of people or investors, as opposed to disclosing the information to all investors at the same time. Look no further than ‘email-gate’ to understand Clinton’s inability (or unwillingness) to adhere to proper disclosure policies.

Another obligation of public company CEOs is to host quarterly earnings calls. While I have no doubt both candidates would excel at delivering a compelling, scripted presentation of results, I can see where it could get dicey during the Q&A session.

Trump would likely bristle at having to field questions from lowly sell-side analysts – especially if those analysts happened to be female. I could envisage a response from Trump along the lines of, Listen sweetheart, why don’t you run off and bake me a pie and leave the tough questions to the guys in the room? While written tongue-in-cheek, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Similarly, Clinton would likely struggle to keep the facts straight – what she said, to whom and when. I could envisage a response from Clinton along the lines of, You’ll recall, as we previously disclosed [aka the materials she emailed the previous evening last night from her private email address], sales were down in the Americas last quarter due to a work stoppage.

And finally, board composition. As we have come to appreciate, long gone are the country-club-like boards of directors that dominated corporate America for decades. Today, boards have transformed themselves into powerful company stewards that are appointed to act on behalf of the shareholders.

While I have great faith in Clinton’s ability to assemble a highly qualified board of directors (the presidential cabinet), I wouldn’t put it past Trump to assemble a cabinet dominated by individuals mostly named Trump:

Mike Pence – vice president
Donald Trump Jr – secretary of defense
Ivanka Trump – secretary of treasury
Eric Trump – secretary of commerce
Melania Trump – secretary of education
Barron Trump – secretary of homeland security
Tiffany Trump – secretary of energy

The next few months are going to be an exciting and defining period for the US. Like others, I am going to exercise my right to vote and hope for the best. Michael Bloomberg: it’s not too late to run!

Jeffrey Goldberger is managing partner at consultancy KCSA Strategic Communications

Jeffrey Goldberger

Jeffrey Goldberger

Managing partner at KCSA Strategic Communications