Tech CEO’s Should Ignore Some Advice

In Recode, there was an article about VC Bijan Sabet.  He has an enviable track record and is one of the best VCs out there.  Other VCs I know feel exactly the same way as he does about our current occupant of the White House.   Mark Suster, who feels the same way as Bijan, polled LP’s of VC’s and 71% didn’t care for Trump.

If someone tells you to get political as a CEO, tell them you appreciate their advice and ignore them.  Even if you agree with them.

To be clear, Trump is the current occupant and won’t be enshrined there forever.  There are term limits on the Presidency. I wish there were term limits for every office.

I think it is very, very dangerous and toxic to mix politics and investing.  It leads to bad decisions by investors for sure.  Take it from someone who knows from experience.  I didn’t do so well trading in 2009.  But, I made investments in plenty of startups where I knew full well the CEO had a different political bent than I did.  Politics never entered any decision about whether to invest/not invest nor did it impact any decision regarding anything else.   There were times that I told CEO’s to avoid political statements altogether.  The same advice I am spilling out in this blog post.  Being lead by politics leads to bad business decisions by CEO’s.  Emotions are super powerful.  Be very careful where you tread when it comes to politics, especially in this polarized society.

You may not like Trump.  I didn’t care for Obama’s policies or vision at all.  I certainly don’t like the way Trump communicates.  But, Bijan was just incorrect about some of his statements.  For example, Trump doesn’t have a Muslim ban on travel from countries.  The countries he banned travel from are overwhelmingly Muslim, but if a Jew or Christian or an agnostic were to try and travel from those countries, they’d have the same problems.

When it comes to HB-1 visas and immigration, you might disagree with Trump’s stance. I certainly am in favor of a lot of legal immigration.  But, when you delve through the data you find that big, huge public corporations are abusing the HB-1 and EB-5 programs.  To me, it looks like we ought to be rethinking immigration altogether. I’d like it to be a lot more entrepreneur friendly.  Clearly, what we have now doesn’t work.

Publicly traded companies have had CEO’s say things and they have felt the wrath or benefit.  Do you want your company to operate that way?  As an investor, I wouldn’t.

There are companies that are challenged by the current regulatory state.  Part of their business model challenges existing regulation.  Ridesharing is a perfect example.  If I were the CEO of a ridesharing company, I wouldn’t criticize any sitting politician from either party.  Instead, I would explain to them my worldview.  I’d also communicate that worldview to their constituents.

Companies do not want to be pigeonholed today.  50% of your customers are not on your side.  They have the power to organize against you.  50% of the people you may want to hire are not on your side.  You want everyone regardless of mainstream political beliefs to feel at home in your corporate culture.  Create a culture where politics aren’t a part of it.  If the CEO takes Bijan’s advice, then the employees will feel empowered to do so too.  All of a sudden the CEO has a hornet’s nest on their hands.

When I was a director on CME’s political action committee, we donated 50/50.  I spoke with Democrats and Republicans exactly the same, with the same zeal on issues that were important.  Leo Melamed and I had a very animated conversation once with a Democrat.  It was one of the best policy conversations I ever had with a politician.  Open, freewheeling and candid.  Even today, CEO’s can follow the example of their Executive Chairman Terry Duffy.  He leans Republican personally.  But, that never gets in the way of business and he has some very very good friends on the other side of the aisle.  He doesn’t outsource those friendships either.

I certainly respect the people that are on the other side of the aisle from me.  I had a wonderful conversation with former President Obama’s speechwriter prior to the World Champion Chicago Cubs game last night.  We found common ground in the Cubs.  If you find yourself really starting to detest the other side, do yourself a favor and go make friends with them.  That’s the first step to figuring out why they believe what they believe.  When you understand that, you will find more common ground.


  • JLM

    Would any tech CEO give a shit about Bijan Sabet’s opinion on anything were he not keeping a closet full of money?

    The answer is NO.

    His acknowledged expertise as a venture capitalist is not a qualification for opining on public policy or politics — let’s agree that politics is the influence of public policy based on some philosophy of governance.

    In fact, I would say he is particularly unqualified.

    Further, the money he hands out is not his. It is OPM. As OPM, it may come from a union whose members are looking to the return Bijan creates on their investment to fund pensions which are politically agnostic.

    Last, nobody in business is operating a business which is focused on serving a single political party or focus. Why should they be risking alienating any customers?

    This is an exercise in pure ego. Bijan Sabet would not be a pimple on the world’s ass absent his ability to dole out funds with which to buy a bit of apple polishing and ass kissing — take your choice.

    The H1-B Visa program is something the Mafia would approve of. It is anti-American and corrupt.


  • awaldstein


    I respect your views. I disagree completely.

    I think your views on the world should 100% cross over to whom you do business with and how.

    They do for myself and my choice of clients, charities and investments.

  • CliffElam

    I had to stop reading Suster, after many many years, because he’d clearly slipped a link on his timing chain. I’m hoping to be able to read him again someday.

    I stopped shopping at Nordstroms (after 35 years of *only* shopping there) because they gave in to the crybullies and picked on Ivanka. (PS – Better clothes at a lower price at, of all places, Brooks Brothers.)

    I was only a weekly starbucks customer (friday cheat day!) but had to stop going there after the CEO opened his big flap. Again.

    Don’t even get me started on the films I can’t see because the artists are insultingly verbal.

    Honestly, I don’t get it.


    • JLM

      I agree way more with you than you do with yourself.

      I have seen a lot of films with subtitles lately.


      • CliffElam


        How many versions of The Bridge are there?


  • steve_adams21

    This is good for lots of CEO’s. “If I were the CEO of a ridesharing company, I wouldn’t criticize any sitting politician from either party. Instead, I would explain to them my worldview”

    • Explaining your worldview is sometimes extremely difficult. It’s not only hard to show someone else what you are seeing, but you have to get around and over your own confirmation biases as well. Listen and don’t talk at/around someone. Make sure they are not talking around you. Connect-converse-check in