Getting canned is easy — in the private sector

Commentator Robert Reich


SCOTT JAGOW: Some high-ranking public figures are on the hot seat right now. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz is in trouble for helping his girlfriend get a high-paying job. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is taking the heat for firing eight federal prosecutors. And presidential advisor Karl Rove is being investigated for possibly abusing his power. Leaders in the corporate world also get themselves into sticky situations of course. But Commentator Robert Reich says they have a much harder time holding onto their jobs.

ROBERT REICH: In government, you can hold on as long as you have strong backers willing to lend you a hand.

That's why Wolfowitz may make it, since the U.S. is the biggest shareholder in the World Bank. And Rove, who some have called Bush's brain, will probably stay on as long as he wants.

But it's also why, when the going gets tough, the tough often let go of underlings to take the heat off themselves.

Which is why, as the U.S. attorney scandal spreads, Gonzoles may not make it. Why officials who ran Walter Reid Army Hospital are gone. And why Michael Brown — remember Brownie? — is no longer working at FEMA.

The private sector is different. Sure, there's often back-biting enough to fill a bear-baiting pit. But there, the answer to "How long can he or she hold on?" is ultimately decided by consumers and investors.

Don Imus couldn't hold on, because advertisers wanted him to go — because consumers threatened to leave if he didn't. CEOs like Bob Nardelli at Home Depot, Hank McKinnell at Pfizer, and Carly Fiorina at HP couldn't hold on because investors had enough.

Success or failure in the public sector is often up for grabs, because you're often trying to achieve multiple and sometimes conflicting goals. Meanwhile, lots of people are trying to grab credit and avoid blame.

In Washington, a "friend" is someone who stabs you in the front. You just try to use your best judgment — and when in doubt, ask yourself how it would look on the front page of the Washington Post, reported in the least favorable light.

But in the private sector, the goal is clear: Either you attract customers and make a profit or you don't.

And if you don't, it doesn't matter if you have all the friends in the world. You may get a 14-karat golden parachute, but you're still outta there.

JAGOW: Robert Reich teaches public policy at the University of California Berkeley. He was Labor Secretary under President Clinton. In Los Angeles, I'm Scott Jagow. Thanks for tuning in and have a great day.


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