CEOs in Political Seats Could Be Good for Business

That’s partly because leaders of the new Republican majority in the Senate already have made clear their determination to tack hard in a more free-market direction on issues ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to deregulation to the fate of Obamacare.

“Perdue focused his message on his success as head of Dollar General and having presided over its turnaround, recent expansion and addition of thousands of jobs nationwide.”

But there’s another reason that CEOs and company owners may be more comfortable with the 114th Congress: who its members will be.

The freshman class of senators will include David Perdue of Georgia, a Republican former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok. A beginner in political campaigning, he surprised experts by winning a July runoff among Republicans for the right to campaign into November. Perdue focused his message on his success as head of Dollar General and having presided over its turnaround, recent expansion and addition of thousands of jobs nationwide. Critics attacked his performance as CEO of a North Carolina textile firm Pillowtex that he had run briefly and that closed shortly after he left in 2003, costing 8,000 jobs, USA Today reported.

His big victory over Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, a daughter of former iconic Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, also underscored the size of the Republican wave on election night because conventional expectations were that neither candidate would get more than 50% of the vote that day and so a runoff ballot would be necessary. But Perdue prevailed with 53% to  Nunn’s 45%.

While Perdue is the only new senator leaping into politics directly from a business-chieftain role, several other freshmen have significant business-leadership experience and sympathies. They include Cory Gardner of Colorado, whose family has owned a farm-implement dealership for generations, and Steve Daines of Montana, who spent a chunk of his career with Procter & Gamble and then joined RightNow Technologies, a software company.

“While the race in Connecticut was extremely close, residents in the blue state ultimately felt that former CEO Tom Foley did not have their interests at heart.”

Newly elected Mike Rounds, former governor of South Dakota, is former president and CEO of his own insurance and real estate business. Nebraska’s Ben Sasse was a turnaround expert at McKinsey before entering the government and academic worlds. Thom Tillis of North Carolina was a partner with PwC.

But not all former CEOs had a successful round this election. Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley lost to incumbent Dannell Malloy after Malloy’s ads accused Foley of laying off thousands at a company he owned, while walking away with millions in his own pockets. He even publicly blamed the employees for having to close the business. While the race was extremely close, residents in the blue state ultimately felt that Foley did not have their interests at heart. Also, less than two years after the Sandy Hook shooting, Foley, a former McKinsey executive, was publicly advocating for the NRA, which many felt was insensitive.

The outcome of this year’s elections is likely to salve memories from just two years ago of the failure of a similar opportunity for CEOs to greatly boost their influence in Washington, D.C. Besides Republican presidential candidate and former Bain Capital CEO Mitt Romney, losing candidates in 2012 included former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, who twice failed to win a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut. In 2010, both former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina ran strong but unsuccessful races for California governor and for a California seat in the U.S. Senate, respectively.

Dale Buss :Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.