BIZ  OPINION:  ATE  GLUE,  CEO?

MANILA
, JUNE 18, 2007 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - A businessman once told me he had little leadership expectations from Ate Glue because she had never had the experience of running a business, of worrying about signing a payroll week after week. True enough, Ate Glue had always been in the academe and shortly before she became a politician with her stint in the Senate, she was a bureaucrat dispensing garment export quotas.

In all fairness, even if Ate Glue may not have had exposure in the management of a complex operation in business or industry, she has native skills in strategic management. Notice how well she managed her 2004 campaign, yes, even to include the Garci operations… if only she resisted the urge to micromanage by calling Garci herself.

The idea of Ate Glue as CEO came to mind as I was reading the lead article of Businessweek entitled “The CEO Mayor: How New York’s Mike Bloomberg is creating a new model for public service that places pragmatism before politics.” Ate Glue should read this article and be inspired.

Bloomberg, Businessweek observes, “may have the right combination of managerial, risk-taking, and political skills to create a new model for public service...” The mayor, the magazine noted, applied lessons from an early career on Wall Street and from two decades building his financial-information and media empire, and is using technology, marketing, data analysis, and results-driven incentives to manage what is often seen as an unmanageable city.

Bloomberg sees New York City as a corporation, its citizens as customers, its sanitation workers, police officers, clerks, and deputy commissioners as talent. He is the chief executive. Like any business executive, he sees accountability and results as part of the deal for which he was hired by the voters of New York.

His checklist-obsessed operating style, Businessweek reports, has resonated with New York’s famously cynical citizenry—70 percent approval ratings attest to that. And yes, some people think this can be done elsewhere… even in this developing and hopefully soon to be a former basket case we call home.

It wasn’t always like that for Bloomberg. The New York he took over was grappling with the psychological and financial impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As Businessweek recalls, New York “faced a budget gap of nearly $6 billion. On Wall Street, there was talk of abandoning Manhattan for the safer precincts of New Jersey or Connecticut.”

Bloomberg, Businessweek reports, had three options: Cut services, raise taxes, or both. He raised property taxes and by the following summer, Bloomberg’s approval ratings had plunged, to 31 percent. But, Businessweek reports, the novice mayor was undeterred.

“Where most politicians would have seen only a fiscal solution to the budget gap, he spotted a marketing opportunity. He was protecting the New York City ‘brand.’ Bloomberg saw a low crime rate, good public transportation, and clean streets as indispensable to selling New York. Cutting back on services, he felt, would send the wrong message to the business community and the outside world.

I can almost imagine Toting Bunye reading this column and his face lighting up as he recognizes the face of his boss, our beloved Ate Glue doing the same thing with the expanded value added tax. Grant it to Ate Glue that she knew what she had to do with the country’s fiscal health and she did it. Her popularity rating sunk even more, but there’s where the comparison ends. Her low public acceptance was caused by other things too and not just EVAT.

Anyway, back to Bloomberg… he was able to build confidence in his leadership and as a result, created hundreds of thousands of new private sector jobs, boosting the economy and fueling a construction boom. Now, with the city in surplus, Bloomberg plans to hand out $1.3 billion in tax cuts not only to homeowners but also to businesses and shoppers. Nothing like that is going to happen here any time soon.

Bloomberg likes to think of the voters as customers. He is obsessive about catering to his customers, establishing 24-hour call lines, collecting data to help develop new products, and sending his executives out into the field to solicit feedback directly from clients.

“Good companies listen to their customers, No.1,” he says, “then they try to satisfy their needs, No.2.” In a city never shy about complaining, Bloomberg decided New York needed its own 24-hour customer-service line. “The benefit, beyond giving the public a new outlet to vent, would be making city government more efficient,” Businessweek reports. Bloomberg sees the weekly reports and gets a sense of the citizenry’s angst—and whether problems are getting solved and how quickly.

This is something Ate Glue should try in a big way. We are after all, supposed to have world-class skills in the call center business. A citizen call line ought to be harnessed by government as a means to improve governance, respond more quickly to citizen needs and get an accurate pulse of public sentiment. It should also keep bureaucrats on their toes. To keep this call center efficient and honest, Ate Glue should job it out to the private sector rather than entrust it to politically compromised bureaucrats.

As is the norm in top business organizations, Bloomberg hires smart and delegates. That’s not what most politicians do upon winning office. They appoint supporters… pay off political debt. Bloomberg recruited his lieutenants based on their ability to set targets and hit them. This is something Ate Glue will find difficulty trying to emulate. She says she is through paying political debt. Well, let us see if she means it in the major Cabinet reshuffle the Palace says is about to take place.

Finally, if Ate Glue asked Bloomberg for advice, he would likely say, “Be Bold, Be Fearless.” Bloomberg wrote in his autobiography that “a major part of the CEO’s responsibilities is to be the ultimate risk-taker and decision-maker. Truman (‘The buck stops here’) had it right.”

The mayor, Businessweek reports, “has embraced risk with an almost reckless disregard for political repercussions. Sometimes it has worked out: His controversial smoking ban in bars and restaurants is being replicated in other cities.”

But even when it hasn’t worked as expected, Bloomberg notes that “in business, you reward people for taking risks. When it doesn’t work out, you promote them because they were willing to try new things. If people come back and tell me they skied all day and never fell down, I tell them to try a different mountain.”

What has Bloomberg learned as mayor? “The real world, whether in business or government, requires that you don’t jump to the endgame [or] to success right away,” he says. “You do it piece by piece. Some people get immobilized when they come to a roadblock. My answer is, ‘you know, it’s a shame it’s there, but now where else can we go? Let’s just do it.’”

Ate Glue as CEO of Philippines Inc? We have three years to find out if that’s something that’s too much to even hope for. Her last six have been awful.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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