by Tom Kaneshige

Would Steve Jobs Have Been a Good Politician?

Feb 10, 20124 mins
GovernmentIT Leadership

Steve Jobs served on President George H.W. Bush’s Export Council despite sources telling the FBI that Jobs “will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals.” Is this the intersection of business and politics?

By now you’ve probably read about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s extensive background check on Steve Jobs, who was being considered for an appointment to President George H.W. Bush’s Export Council in 1991. In a sweeping 191-page file, the FBI found that Jobs had a sordid past full of drug use, was possibly a dead-beat dad, dodged interviews, had a fiery temper, and would lie to achieve his goals.

Essentially, Jobs would make a great political operator – and he did serve on the council.

There’s little question among Jobs aficionados that his mercurial personality and an almost laser-focus on achieving certain goals helped him become one of the greatest CEOs in American history. But do successful business traits translate well to politics?


The FBI findings of Jobs have even more meaning today, as presidential hopeful Mitt Romney tries to ride his successful business career at Bain & Company to the White House. Romney’s pitch, like the Jobs Export Council appointment, claims that someone with business experience knows what it takes to fix the economy.

“Making good economic policy isn’t at all like maximizing corporate profits,” writes New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “And businessmen – even great businessmen – do not, in general, have any special insights into what it takes to achieve economic recovery.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what a president or an export council member even does. But my guess is that a political operator needs to be able to work well with people in order to achieve results. Whatever the late-Jobs was, he wasn’t “good with people.”

Remember “Antennagate” last summer? After weeks of staying silent about an antenna design flaw in the newly released iPhone 4 despite growing consumer concern, Jobs finally called a hasty press conference at Apple headquarters. He proceeded to dish out a half-hearted mea culpa by announcing plans for free “bumpers,” after blasting the media for blowing the problem out of proportion.

He then declared the antenna flap over.

Jobs shunned committees, fiefdoms and even market research, in favor of one man’s control. Yet the President’s Export Council is made up of 28 private-sector members, advising the President on government policies affecting U.S. trade performance. All of this makes me wonder how Jobs’ advisements to President Bush Sr.  were received.

As told by Walter Isaacson in his biography “Steve Jobs”, Jobs insisted President Obama personally ask him for a meeting and then told him, “You’re headed for a one-term presidency.” Jobs felt President Obama wasn’t supportive enough of American manufacturing, comparing how much easier it is to build factories in China due to less regulations and unnecessary costs.

Taking aim at his biggest rival, Jobs said about Microsoft’s Bill Gates: “Bill is unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”

Whether or not Jobs was right doesn’t matter. It’s hard to imagine such outspokenness and lack of tact currying favor among politicians and achieving goals.

The FBI report described Jobs as someone who will “twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals.” Is this the kind of person who should be appointed as an advisor to the President of the United States?

Call me cynical, but it’s probably not far off, and achieving goals no matter what is an outlook that business and politics definitely have in common. President Jobs? Don’t think so. But as a strategist, he might have been magical.