President Trump fails as CEO

Regardless of your beliefs about oil companies, Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE was an outstanding CEO of ExxonMobil Oil Company by every criteria. The contrast with President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE, as CEO of our country, tells us we are in deep trouble as a country, not from the perspective of the liberals who dislike the president’s policies, but from the perspective of what it takes to lead a private corporation in America.

CEOs of private corporations produce big returns for their stockholders when they behave with integrity as Tillerson does. CEO’s fail their stockholders when they behave as Trump behaves and the boards of directors of those companies fire those CEO’s. In our view, Trump fails many criteria for CEO success. We are his board of directors and we must fire him before our country fails.


The single most important criterion utilized by boards of directors and the accounting firms in the U.S. that audit corporations is the “tone at the top.” This term defines management’s leadership and commitment toward openness, honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior. It evaluates the ethical tone that the CEO of the organization sets through his or her own behavior and the actions required of others. Tone at the top is correlated with company success. Indeed corporate greed originating with the CEO has destroyed hundreds of companies with Enron being the poster child.  


Kenneth Frazier recently spoke about his resignation from the president’s American Manufacturing Council. Frazier is the CEO for Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. He assessed Trump based on his own values and experiences as CEO, as well as the values and expectations of his company. This assessment found Trump lacking and was followed by many other CEOs agreeing with this sentiment. Considering the dialogue concerning Trump’s business faculties, negative assessments of his capabilities as president might not necessarily be expected by C level executives.

From the auditor’s perspective, a company with a great tone at the top is less likely to violate federal regulations, e.g. the accounting rules and the federal corrupt practices act (which means, for example, that you can’t bribe officials in a foreign country in order to obtain a contract). The boards of directors of private companies frequently evaluate their CEO and hire and fire their CEO based on tone at the top because they know the company will fail if it is lacking.

Trump ran his campaign with promises to run the country as he ran his businesses, implying that his businesses were successful. We posit that the numerous businesses of which Trump was CEO failed because he personally failed the tone at the top test. 

Yes, Trump Airlines, Trump Entertainment Resorts, Trump Magazine, Trump Mortgage, Trump Steaks,, and the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative among others failed.

Putting aside the policy debate, we seek to evaluate the current president, asking: Does Trump support and personify a commitment towards openness, honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior?


Trump’s inability to be transparent and open about aspects of his life and business that could affect his presidency are well known. For example, despite the history of U.S. presidents releasing their personal tax returns since the 1970’s, and despite the majority of Americans who think it’s necessary for Trump to release his tax records, he has chosen not to with false claims that an audit prevents him from releasing them. An effective CEO would enhance transparency of his administration and adhere to political precedence set by effective leaders of the past.


Trump’s brash dishonesty has been illustrated many times. PolitiFact has rated the president’s claims “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” 69 percent of the time. Trump’s statement has been awarded PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year, and was dubbed the “King of Whoppers” by, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. An effective CEO would be known for honesty, a hesitance to provide comments on topics in which he has no information and, perhaps most importantly, to admit fault when clear violations of honesty are found.


Perhaps most egregious of all of Trump’s failures as a leader of the free world is his lack of integrity. In our view, Trump has bullied women and regularly makes sexist comments, he has openly mocked the disabled, and has been unapologetic for his seemingly racist comments. An effective CEO would maintain his position on important topics except in response to changing interests of his majority stakeholder base, as opposed to the whims of those who pay his salary. Can you imagine any CEO firing one of his vice presidents via Twitter to the employees, as Trump did to Tillerson?

Ethical behavior

Bipartisan ethics lawyers have characterized Trump’s first year in office as the most unethical in modern history, and perhaps the history of the nation. In violation of the constitution, for example, Trump has refused to divest from businesses that are borrowing money from foreign governments.

The president’s own acting head of the Office of Government Ethics David Apol, noted his deep concern about the behavior of leading Trump officials. Trump’s unprecedented travel to his privately owned commercial golf properties (91 times since the inauguration for a taxpayer cost of over $52 million) highlight a particularly troubling ethics issue.

Any CEO who behaved like Trump behaves would be fired and fired quickly by the company’s board of directors before damage to the company and its stockholders ensued. We can wait until 2020 to fire him or we can insist on impeachment now via our current elected officials and those elected later this year.

Elise Gornish, Ph.D., is a cooperative extension specialist in Ecological Restoration at the University of Arizona. She is a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @RestoreCAL.

Martha Gilliland, Ph.D., served on the board of directors of Black&Veatch Corporation for 14 years. She was professor of geology and environmental engineering and vice provost at the University of Arizona, provost of Tulane University and chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is a former a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.

Rachel Gallery, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Microbial Ecology at the University of Arizona and a public voices fellow with The Op Ed Project. Follow her on twitter @rachelgallerys