what American business leaders should learn from election

With political correctness in mind I will open this post with the fact I am an old white guy.


What should business leaders learn from the election?

–          Old white guys are becoming less relevant.

In some places exit polls showed that almost 65% of older white people did not vote for the president … and yet he won the majority of the vote in those places.

Whoops. I thought old white guys drove the decisions in America.

Canvas the top leadership of American businesses and you will see gobs of old white guys sitting around their old white guy crystal ball pontificating and discussing how to make more money.

And they do not represent who they will make their money from.

That should be a very scary thought for old white guy leaders <assuming they even look beyond the financial statements and stock prices>.

The business world has not become globally flat … it has just become multicultural and gender equal. We old white guys may not like it but we sure as hell better learn to accept it.

Here is the really <really> hard part.

What we say versus what we actually think … and think subconsciously … and how it affects what we actually do.

I will bet you as much money as you want to bet that if  we sat down with all the old white guy leaders they will say all the right things and will appear open to inclusiveness … and they will, for the most part, not be truthful <and not even recognize it>.

A personal example.

I like to believe I am inclusive and fairly liberal when it comes to this topic. And then I took part in a diversity program as part of a management leadership team and I almost cried at my naiveté. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried to think like a woman or an African American or a Latino … I didn’t have the cultural aspects embedded from childhood & heritage. I always did, and always will, have a white guy perspective. Did I make what would be considered ‘massive inappropriate decisions’? Nope. But, frankly, the nuanced errors in thinking seemed more painful to me.

My point? Old white guys are old white guys. They know what they know … and don’t know what they don’t know. They may try. And they may try with the best intentions relentlessly. But in the end? They are old white guys making decisions impacting a whole bunch of non old white guys.

–          Inclusion versus outreach.

As a generalization … old white guy leaders don’t understand how to be relevant. Sure. They try … and may even have good intentions.

However, they typically think in terms of outreach rather than inclusion. Huh?

Five old white guys start reaching out to women, African American, Latino, Asian, etc. and invite them to be included in the thinking. They do research which reaches out to ‘better understand the shifting dynamics of the user population.’ And then the five old white guys interpret the data/information/input from invited participants … and make all-encompassing decisions. Outreach participants inform decisions but really do not make the decisions.

Inclusion means they don’t have to reach out and invite … someone is part of the leadership team … with an equal voice is already at the table.

Oops. That must mean … yup … there are only 4 or, gasp, 3 old white guys at the leadership table.

Let me add to this thought.

This is not about adding someone to the leadership team and then have them go out and tell “their people” why the decisions the leadership team are right for them. This is about adding someone to the team so ‘their people’ have a voice and it actually informs the decision and is part of the decision.


–          Money. And how it is spent.

Never has $6 billion dollars been spent with so little impact made. Think about it. $6 billion advertising dollars were spent … maybe $700 million in the ‘battleground states’ alone … and the status quo was attained.

God it pained me to share those huge numbers. Just painful.

First <and I have stated this before> … who is fired? If that is my business, my CMO is toast. Heck. I would fire myself if I was the CMO.

Second. So what won the election? Grassroots. On the ground real people with a passion and belief communicating to others.

I am not suggesting television advertising is useless. It has a role. But if you want to protect your market share … and you want people to “get out and buy” once in a while nothing beats a solid grassroots infrastructure.

Let me be clear <because someone is going to abuse that thought>.

You cannot activate a grassroots infrastructure the way it was done for this election 24/7-365 days of the year (even in a leap year). Think about building it, keeping it passionate and motivated and informed 365 days of the year … and then only activating it when <a> it is important to do so or <b> on a planned, maybe twice a year, basis.

Look. I am television advertising advocate <as well as an old white guy> because there is no other way you can reach so many people so quickly with a visual/entertaining/educating message.

None <there is no debate on this from a numbers standpoint>.

But business people abuse even that information because they use that as an excuse to not make the big investment necessary to build the grassroots and maintain it.

And, yes, it is a huge investment to build a grassroots infrastructure.

And, yes, it is one of those huge investment decisions that old white guys mumble about in big high falutin’ meetings and bring in squads of young people talking enthusiastically about grassroots … and then they table it for another day <sadly … and embarrassingly … I have been a participant in several of those discussions>.

A grassroots program is a capital expenditure. It is a machine, a building or a manufacturing plant.

It is just like America’s highway infrastructure. If you don’t suck it up at some point and build it you will never be able to control the mobility of your buyers. Oh. Those buyers? Let me be clear about ‘mobility of buyers.’ The mobility of your everyday working class buyers who get around in 10 year old non-BMW/Lexus vehicles with a heater that doesn’t always work as well as it should all the time.

Old white guys think in terms of building planes and air routes … and they should be thinking paving dirt roads and temperamental cars.

That’s it.

Actually there was a lot more to learn from the election but these were the things I thought of last night as I watched number after number float across the screen.

I know a whole bunch of old white guys are pissed off Romney didn’t win … so I thought I would give them something else, and someone else, to be pissed at.

But hopefully business people pay a little more attention to the real learning.

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Written by Bruce