Obama’s Top-Three Priorities: The Economy, The Economy, and The Economy


Well, we have seen something that I thought I would never see in my lifetime—the elevation of an African-American man to the highest elected office in our land: President of the United States. While we all bask in the afterglow of this momentous occasion, we are in the middle of our most serious recession in decades. There is no time for the usual 100-day honeymoon-the serious work of getting this country back on an even financial keel must now begin in earnest.

Unfortunately, Obama now has many Washington interests vying for his attention—each with a compelling case as to why they should be favored with the nation’s time, attention…and money. My advice to our new President is this simple list of his top-three priorities during his first year in office: (1) the economy, (2) the economy, and (3) the economy.

Of course, there are many other things that also require his attention, like wrapping up our successful incursion in Iraq, and putting a newly energized focus on the work yet to be done in Afghanistan. However, until the economy is fixed, these important efforts and others will suffer. As will the hope of the American People.

I’ve been around for more than 80 years now, and I’ve been through just about every possible economic situation—both good and bad—that this nation has ever experienced. I was a child during the Great Depression. I saw banks and companies going bankrupt all over my hometown of Detroit, and I saw home after home boarded up as their owners went bankrupt. My own father’s business suffered greatly during this time.

I have also lived through the great post-war prosperity of the ‘50s, when our nation’s economy grew in leaps and bounds and it seemed there would be no end to the things we could do as a nation.

Of course, the economy as we know has good times and bad times, and the dark is always followed by the dawn. Here is my recommendation for getting out of our current economic mess and returning to prosperity: create a culture of growth based on employee ownership. Now more than ever we need to make employees true partners in our businesses. Study after study shows that employee-owned companies perform better than companies that are not. Widespread employee ownership will have a huge, positive impact on our economy.

Creating a culture of growth requires leaders to remove the organizational obstacles that get in the way of moving quickly to take advantage of changes in the marketplace. In some cases, these may be procedures and practices that have served the company well in good times, but that threaten to bog the company down in bad times. Hire smart people and then put your trust in them. Give them a stake in the business that they contribute to, and unlock their energy and ideas. Create an entrepreneurial culture, where employees have wide-ranging autonomy and authority, and are rewarded for finding and capitalizing on new opportunities for growth. And don’t be afraid to experiment, and try new combinations of people and organizational structures.

Dr. J. Robert Beyster is the founder of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), the largest employee-owned research and engineering company in the United States. Follow @

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