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

1/21/09

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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  • http://www.damps.com Jeff Brown

    I read Dr. Beyster’s blog religiously and agree with his comments re the new administation’s greatly needed focus on the economy.

    I am General Partner for a small private investment partnership in San Diego, for the reserach and development of shock mitigation footwear for the military and commercial work boot markets.

    After years of introductory work by Jon Nussbaum our POC from SAIC, DAMPS Technology Smart Boots have just completed successfull testing in IRAQ with Special Operation Forces (SOF). We have been since directed to the Big Army for further production development. A soldier can now go ten miles and his or her body will receive the equivalent motion shock of three miles.

    My hope and prayers for President Obama are to keep providing our soldiers everywhere the finest equipment available, from head to toe.

  • http://www.bayhammocks.com/default.aspx Anne

    My husband and I own a small manufacturing company in Canada. Although we are in another country we will greatly impacted by President Obama’s policies and couldn’t agree more. It is the economy that should be his top three priorities.

  • Michael E.

    I agree with Dr. Beyster that with our success in Iraq, we must turn our full attention to the economy. As companies shed jobs by the thousands, it’s more important than ever to keep those who remain fully engaged in their jobs. Too many companies treat their employees as expendable rather than as long-term assets. Smart executives will turn their employees into partners. Those whose businesses follow this path will surely thrive.

  • http://www.beyster.com Dr. J. Robert Beyster

    Anne: The new President seems to be having a great deal of trouble getting the financial institutions to do their jobs right and to correct the mistakes they made in the past. I think it will take a year or two to clean it up. If it will stay clean is an open question for me. Maybe if the penalties for deviant financial behavior are made strong enough. It’s surprising to me that, after Enron, people in the financial community are still playing ponzi games with other people’s money. It always seems that someone feels they can game the market, and this passes on from generation to generation.

  • http://www.beyster.com Dr. J. Robert Beyster

    Michael: You’re preaching to the choir when you mention turning employees into partners. I do feel that sometimes in an employee-owned company you do find problems with overstaffing. At SAIC we solved that problem by growing the company so fast that we were able to absorb by re-assignment and transfer of most of the incumbent employees we had. These are the same hard choices that all businesspeople face.

  • Cindy

    Now a month into office, it is clear that Obama is paying very close attention to the economy indeed. It is very possible that most of his efforts will be domestic, to the peril of our foreign interests and national safety. As his agenda becomes more determined, through the passage of the stimulation & mortgage packages, we are looking at the fundamental change of democracy and capitalism as we’ve known it. With the resurgence of Government as the cure, welfare as a right and big business as the enemy, we will continue to see the stock market reeling, businesses and payrolls shrinking and the national debt increasing.

    Yes, there will be a new dawn, as there always is, but the cost of freedom & free speech will be higher, the road to prosperity longer and the burdens on the individual costlier.

    We have elected a city bus driver to fly a 747 and the result will be trickle down mediocrity.

    As a small business owner who has weathered numerous recessions, I remain optimistic regarding individual effort and accomplishment. As a citizen, I remain deeply concerned at the perils we face with a nation making uninformed decisions under the guise of panic and fear.

  • Matt Naiman

    The stimulus needed to be a long term investment in a sustainable economy…

    Education I believe trumps all issues with the economy being a close second. At present health care seems to be center stage in the news coverage, with the debate on increasing troop levels in Afganastan right behind that. Recovery of the economy in the long term will be to a large degree dependent on improvement in education.

    Education figures large in the success for both crisis prevention and crisis management. Education is what underwrites the day to day and long term productivity in this country. More important still, the quality of life beyond individual incomes and company revenues is impacted by education. We can suffer pot holes in the roads far longer than we can the neglect the children in our class rooms. This is especially the case for grades K thru five.

    A good bit of the stimulus went to institutions of higher learning and research for refurbishing of their physical plants. This may be well and good, but for a sustainable economy, we need to make a wise and long term investment in the lives of the next generation coming up. Again for emphasis, improving the education for children in K thru 5 needs to be the focus. With children not acquiring fundamentals in their early years, there will be little learning in later grades and in their adult lives beyond the classroom.

    As a parallel, the cost of education K-12 and at the college level is increasing on a par with that of health care. Like healthcare, “access” is an issue for education too.

    When it comes to education it is an act of faith. There are no guarantees with education unless we of course choose not to properly teach and train our next generation.
    Without proper education, our society and economy will certainly remain in great peril.

    Grateful that “I got mine” with regard to receiving an education; I really would like to see others coming up “get theirs” too!