Understanding Trump’s Approach to Governing

By Danny Lam

Donald Trump came from a background in real estate, where he has successfully run ventures in residences, hotels, casinos, golf courses, etc. and a slew of other “startup” businesses that leveraged off his brand.

One theme that stands out is the lifelong obsession with the Trump brand, and the power of the brand: “Soft power” in the parlance of foreign policy.

Trump is, in that respect, highly cognizant of the power of credibility to compel, or induce action by others. A very valuable skill in business as in foreign policy.

President Trump would no doubt manage the USA brand very much like he managed his own brand.   The new Trump USA brand will be built early in his term with a few major, signature reforms, and as his brand gains credibility, he would continually attempt to extend the brand into new franchises with startups, all of which will be given a few years (4.6 on average for business, less in government because of term limits) to prove themselves or be shut down.

Not all of them will succeed, but enough of them will be successful for President Trump to maintain an enviable batting average.

More often than not, Trump insulated himself from the consequences of these ventures that fail, and benefitted spectacularly when they succeed.

Trump picks good people for his ventures, and if they don’t work, he has, repeatedly, demonstrated the talent to recognize his own mistakes in his trademark phrase, “You’re fired”.

Expect him to behave the same in Government.

While Donald Trump’s public persona is all about the “Art of the Deal”, the flip side is that Trump proved himself as a very good manager who throughout his career, showed an intimate understanding of staffing, project management, purchasing and costs, managing risks, and along with that, the power of technology as it transformed his businesses over the decades.

Many of his businesses, like Casinos and hotels, are veritable high tech operations that rely on the latest technologies to manage and control the staff and patrons to turn a profit.

Whether Trump himself personally is technically savvy is beside the point when he clearly demonstrated the ability to have some of the most technically competent and astute people working for him.

And when they don’t deliver, they are gone.

Being a good manager is one thing, but what is fundamentally different about Donald J. Trump in his later years is his ability to be more than a manager: “a leader that provide inspiration, vision, and human passion that drive.. success.”

Intriguingly, early in his career, Trump’s accomplishments included taking over dilapidated properties like the Commodore Hotel and turning it into a valuable property with partner Hyatt Hotel.

That is perhaps the most interesting skill — how to take an old crumbling system, updated it and fundamentally alter its value proposition to customers.

Reach out to find and partner with a “name” firm that had expertise he did not have, and bake a bigger pie.   Notably, later hotel ventures carried his own brand after he absorbed and acquired his partner’s skills.

The parallels between Trump’s strategy to get free brand recognition and promotion via “The Apprentice” show and his primary campaign antics is striking.

Historically, new Administrations have failed to make a dint in the operations of the vast labyrinth of the US Government.   Efficient and effective public administration tends to be the red headed step-child of elected leaders.

Many government functions still operate much the way they did in the 1940s, impervious to reform as politicians have chosen to expend their political capital on more urgent priorities like passing laws that are notable for its poor implementation.

Therefore, the opportunity is there for Donald Trump to repeat his success on a grand scale by deploying the core skills of senior businessmen: recruit and retain talented administrators to implement his agenda.

Central to Donald J. Trump’s ethos that he demonstrated throughout his career is “more for less”.

Most recently, Donald Trump managed to secure the Republican nomination with a fraction of the amount spent by recent winners of either party.   However measured, Trump’s cost per delegate, or cost per vote, set new standards for efficiency and efficacy for primary campaigns.

Trump, incredibly, got the equivalent of $2 billion of advertising for free during the primary when the biggest problem for a little known outsider candidate is to rise above the noise.

What’s more, Trump routinely command large audiences (read allies) at post-nomination rallies that are substantially larger than Clinton’s.

From a marketing perspective, what Trump accomplished is to induce individuals to willingly and enthusiastically spend considerable resources (time: better part of a day; money: travel, food; emotional commitment: long lineups, risk being turned away, etc.) to his cause and brand.

While critics have derided his speeches and public statements for factual and technical flaws, at least one observer has observed that Trump is a master of the art of persuasion.

These skills would feature prominently in his Presidency.

If Trump goes on to win the Presidency on a shoestring, he would have shown conclusively that he has changed the “rules of the road” in the Presidential Election game twice in a year: a remarkable achievement that sets him and his brand up with the credibility to tackle substantial government reforms.

In unguarded moments, Donald Trump let drop that he is applying a very businesslike approach to managing his campaign by observing how many people he is reaching in his rallies and the cost of those events vs. advertising.   Focusing on these metrics and looking at the data in a new way from conventional wisdom was, and is now key to understanding the Trump phenomena.

Most great managers tend to focus on a few not public key indicators or metrics aside from the usual public indicators to gauge their own performance.

A big part of the game is to keep these metrics from being known by subordinates who will deliver to “model” but not necessarily the substance the manager seek.

Managers will use different metrics as existing private gauges become known and become manipulated over time.

Once Donald Trump put in place his choice of people, expect him to develop private metrics, and use them to shadow the performance of his team.

One can expect to see President Trump look for the same kind of economies that conventional wisdom expects not to find, and there is every reason to believe he will at least deliver something substantial in his first year.

Donald Trump has hinted at finding economies in government in many of his public statements.

If President Trump can talk US Allies into his agenda like he did the American electorate, watch out.

Imagine the impact of actually increasing US Allies defense spending to 2% GDP.

Danny Lam is an independent consultant based in Calgary.


Bookmark this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *