Myth Busters #1: Nagin is a Good Businessman
One of the most remarkable aspects of any great leader is the myth that often surrounds such people. Caesar was thought to be lucky, Napoleon never let on about his height, and FDR expended great effort to conceal his handicap. When given the alternative between the real and the unreal, many times our leaders tend to assume and/or are buffeted by our tendency to accept unreality over reality.
Over the past few years, I've heard the mantra from Nagin supporters that he's a good businessman, followed by, usually tacitly, the corollary argument that he will run the city like a business. This argument has little merit on its face, since businesses and political entities are not alike. However, and this is my main point here, if business and politics were alike, then what has C. Ray Nagin done to earn the reputation of being a good businessman?
First let’s dispense with the myth. Looking for Mayor Nagin's resume, which has been removed from the city website, presumably for rewriting, this is all I could find:
Before becoming Mayor, Mr. Nagin served as the vice president and general manager for Cox Communications in Southeast Louisiana. He transformed the local operations of the cable company from one of Cox’s poorest performing markets to one of its most profitable assets. He hired a staff that put a new emphasis on customer service and used technology to gain efficiency. Those two strategies are playing key roles in Nagin’s efforts to transform City Hall as well.
Sounds quite impressive, though someone forgot to add Mr. Nagin’s time in a public accounting firm before joining Cox Cable, where he did or didn't, depending on when you asked Mr. Nagin, pass the CPA exam. So that leaves our "great businessman" with two employers and no personally owned businesses for the past 25 or so years.So, let's discuss Cox Cable. First, it's a public utility, second, it's a virtual monopoly, and third, it's a bureaucracy (more on that later). Ask yourself one question: How difficult is it to increase profits, when you have few competitors and plenty of potential customers? The answer is not really, for you Nagin supporters in the audience.
Ok, so now that we've dispensed with the myth that Mr. Nagin ever earned any respect as a formidable businessman, let’s discuss what his background may have taught him and how that affects us today.
Being a bureaucracy, rising within the ranks is just as often due to factors other than business acumen. In fact, I fully believe that anyone with business savvy wouldn’t work at such a place for very long, either because they’re bored or grow tired of being passed over by their inferiors, perceived or not. These types of organizations do, however, create very formidable internal politicians, whose talents often lie in taking credit for other’s work and covering their rears in a pinch.
So does this sound familiar?
Mayor Nagin has not brought a single new corporation of any substance to this area, but claims credit for the accomplishments of others, such as our nascent movie industry (thanks to Gov. Foster's tax credits). When asked to deal with this city’s greatest catastrophe, instead of relying on proactive planning and efficient delegation of duty, Mayor Nagin blames the Federal and State Governments, exaggerates to the national and local media about what’s occurring within the city, fires Eddie Compass for his own failure to prepare our city, and proposes an idea [casino expansion] he can’t implement.
Does any of this sound like a great businessman?
Unfortunately, he's no businessman, but he continues to job his constituents.