Some of what I’m reading lately about businesses and particularly CEOs concerns me deeply. Most of America’s CEOs, like those who are members of Vistage, are running established small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They are not the large company CEOs being vilified in the media and by so many in Washington. This distinction needs to be made and understood.
The CEOs I’m talking about are different from the ones we’ve been reading and hearing about. Their identity, their net worth, their reputation are tied up with their business. There’s no such thing as a CEO of a small or medium-sized business who walks away with a huge bonus only to have his business sink the next week. That might happen on Wall Street, but not Main Street. You won’t find a CEO of an SME who says, “I don’t really know what’s on my balance sheet, or how things are really working, or the real value of my assets; I just know we’re making a lot of money and don’t really care to find out the rest.” They can’t afford not to know. They ask questions and challenge assumptions because what happens to their business is what happens to them, and vice versa. They’re intertwined.
In a recent NY Times piece, Paul Krugman wrote, “CEOs are people, too—but soothing their hurt feelings isn’t a priority right now, and it has nothing at all to do with promoting economic recovery.” I thought, how unfair and unkind. Which CEOs is he talking about? Does he ever talk to or think about the CEOs who run Main Street businesses all across our great country? Respecting their feelings does matter. And they—not Washington or Wall Street—will drive our economic recovery. After all, SMEs are responsible for 50% of our GDP, 75% of the non-government jobs, and virtually all of the innovation and entrepreneurship in this country.
SMEs need and deserve less government intrusion, more access to credit, and a more discerning media. What’s good for smaller businesses is good for America!