Running Mates and Business Mates: Critical Selections Make or Break a Leadership Team

What can CEOs learn from Romney’s Vice Presidential choice of Paul Ryan when it comes to choosing a strong leadership team? Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or other, Romney’s selection of Ryan reinforces the importance of choosing a running mate that’s right for the role, rather than one with simply a résumé or image that sells.

November 2 2012 by Amy K. Hutchens


When it comes to choosing a great mate, whether in politics or business, the essentials extend well beyond charisma, connections and political leverage. The key foundational elements are trust, loyalty and complimentary skills and qualities. Most everyone agrees Paul Ryan is brilliant, articulate and potentially polarizing, a provocative pick for a presidential ticket, but more essentially, Romney saw a common foundation for trust and Ryan fills the gaps that Romney can’t close.

Vice presidential picks have often represented the need for votes in swing states or states far from the President’s sphere of influence. Kennedy’s selection of Texan Lyndon Johnson in 1960 as his running mate is one of the most successful examples, if only from an election standpoint. Johnson was more experienced, more respected and most important, from a must-win state. But the two shared neither values nor vision, and their dislike for one another was epic, producing divisiveness in the administration even after Kennedy’s death. In 1980 candidate Ronald Reagan chose as his running mate the ultimate insider, George H. W. Bush, his opponent in the primary. To many observers it seemed an unlikely pairing. What was revealed in time was an extraordinary paring of skills, influence, leadership and trust; a successful relationship extending well beyond their eight years in service together.

CEOs seeking strong partners for today’s world can no longer simply hire the candidate with a stellar CV and extensive experience. It’s the nature of their experience that matters: is it complimentary to the CEO’s; does it fill the gaps in the team; will their experience matter to more than just shareholders; and perhaps most of all, does their experience present strong evidence that a foundation for trust and loyalty exists?

How can a CEO “know” their business mate can be trusted?

Credible contributions demonstrated by a proven track record of success are a must in today’s world of hyperbole and empty promises. Moreover, the nature of their success is key. Does the business mate candidate have a history of managing budgets by cutting wasteful spending? Beyond the sound-bite, what’s their definition of wasteful spending? Is it archaic processes, redundant systems and bloated salaries, or is it simply “too many” employees diluting shareholder dividends? The what, why and how are illuminating in defining the nature of the candidate’s past success. And it is their definition of success that matters. Is the healthy culture they create a collective of tolerance to the point of mediocrity, or is it a culture of accountability built on individual responsibility, self-respect and regard for each other? One is safe and easy; the other is hard but self-sustaining.

With annual revenue of $39 billion, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, runs the world’s fourth largest snack and beverage company. In 2006, just after she was selected as the CEO she turned to her fellow competitor for the position, Michael White, and asked him to join her. Why? Because she knew he was the best operations person in the company and the perfect partner in her quest to transform Pepsi into a healthier snacks and beverage leader. When White describe their combined roles to their team he said, “I play the piano and Indra sings.” With common interests, a shared vision and mutual respect for one another’s talents, they helped PepsiCo grow its revenue by 13 percent, net income by 4 percent and earnings per share by 5 percent in 2011 alone.

When a business partnership is based on common values, a commitment to something beyond themselves and friendship, the result can live even beyond their leadership. Throughout the twenty plus years Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield grew their eclectic ice cream business, their alignment on key issues endured. Winning the title of Small Business Persons of the Year was a mere footnote as they went on to champion many social causes throughout their tenure. Their commitment to such “beyond business” endeavors was so strong that when Unilever purchased them the new CEO championed their social conscience, saying, “Historically, the company has been and must continue to be a pioneer to continually challenge how business can be a force of good…”

If you have trust, will you have loyalty?

In the political arena, party loyalty drives the choices of talking points, primary candidates and party platforms. Political leaders want to know they can count on their base to build support. Unfortunately, once elected, their platform doesn’t always translate to policy. It’s cliché to say politicians can’t be trusted. Perhaps that accounts for the billions spent on elections. Loyalty seems to have a price tag in politics.

It is quite similar in business. Loyalty is the “holy grail.” Brand loyalty, product loyalty, employee loyalty, or the lack thereof, will make or break a business. Loyalty in any healthy relationship is the underlying element in predicting success and it starts with trust. Will you consistently honor the relationships you build, from shareholder to consumer, by not compromising people’s hard won trust? When answered “yes,” leaders create loyalty.

Loyalty in business is exemplified by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. With a friendship based on a common passion for mathematics and a fondness for technological innovation, they built a company loved by users and employees alike, and Google reported revenues of $10.65 billion for Q1 2012, an increase of 24% compared to the first quarter of 2011.

Great duos can often turn into powerful teams. Page and Brin founded Google in 1998. In 2001, they hired Eric Schmidt who then helped grow the company from a Silicon Valley startup to a global leader in technology. These three have now teamed with Hollywood icon James Cameron; co-founder Peter Diamandis of Zero-G Corporation, a company offering commercial flights to experience weightlessness aboard a modified Boeing 727-200 jet; and Eric Anderson, co-founder of Space Adventures, a company brokering multimillion-dollar flights for private citizens to the International Space Station, to finance an outer space adventure in asteroid mining. The goal will be to draw precious metals and water from floating space rocks and open up a whole new world of natural resources.

What will the Romney-Ryan relationship look like on their path to November? How might it change if they are successful in their goals? Now more than ever, their demonstration of trust in each other and loyalty to the American people will influence voter decisions. Now more than ever, CEOs creation of trust with their leaders and a demonstration of loyalty to the American people will influence consumer decisions.