President Obama’s former car czar said it would be a “tough adjustment” for a CEO to succeed Lawrence Summers, the outgoing White House senior economic adviser.
Steven Rattner, who oversaw the bailouts of GM and Chrysler for the president, said the person to replace Summers as chairman of the president’s National Economic Council would have “extreme culture shock” if he or she came straight from the private sector. White House officials have signaled that they’re looking for a woman with business experience, but Rattner suggested such a background might not be necessary.
“I think it's a little bit of a red herring in the sense that [Obama is] very plugged in to the world,” Rattner said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” “He has his Economic Recovery Advisory Board that consists of a number of very distinguished businessmen, including Jeff Immelt and so forth, from General Electric. He reads voraciously.
“So, maybe simply — simply to get rid of this one criticism of him, he could put somebody from the business community in there,” Rattner added. “But I would say somebody from the business community would find working in the White House and Larry Summers's job an extreme culture shock.”
Rattner served as head of the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry last year as the Obama administration sought to save the U.S. car companies who were near collapse because of the financial crisis. Rattner had worked for years on Wall Street, working for Morgan Stanley and Lazar Freres before starting his own investment firm Quadrangle.
He said anyone who moved from the boardroom to the White House would need to get used to being a staffer.
“Because you're going from being a CEO, running a company, saying this is what we're going to do, to a very complex organization that operates very much by collaboration, consensus, bringing in opinions from all over the government,” he said. “It's basically a staff job. It's a very important staff job, but you're working for the president and the other senior staff members.
“It's very different from being a CEO,” he added. “I think it would be a tough adjustment for most CEOs.”
Rattner, whose recent book, “Overhaul,” gives an insider account of the White House during the crisis, said Obama was “terrific” and “a natural” as an executive.
“I have been around... a lot of CEOs over the years,” Rattner said. “But he was — he didn't dwell on things. He was willing to make decisions, but he didn't sort of rush through and say, well, I've got 10 minutes to make this decision. I’m going to make it.”
Rattner, however, said Obama was “maybe less comfortable” and “less familiar” with business than President Clinton. Obama’s lack of comfort might stem from the political climate and his job of representing the entire country, his former adviser said.
“And this is a country that is angry,” Rattner said. “This is a country that is suffering economically. It blames Wall Street for a lot of its problems. It blames business for some of its problems. The president's job cannot always be to stand up for business or to stand up for Wall Street. He's got to assimilate all his thoughts and put them together into a package that he believes in, but that's also politically saleable.”