Should the Next Commerce Secretary Be a Tech Exec (or Would It Cause a Schmidtstorm?)
Yesterday, the Obama administration dribbled out the news that it was going to nominate current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the next ambassador to China.
If approved, Locke will surely have his hands full on a wide range of issues, many of them impacting the tech sector, including piracy, privacy and government-sponsored censorship.
Perhaps more interestingly, the move leaves open a post–which the Obama administration actually had a hard time filling initially–that could get a true turbocharge if it were filled by an exec from the fast-growing digital arena.
It’s not a bad idea, since tech is probably now the most critical business arena in the U.S. and one of the only markets in which this country innovates and excels at.
While the Commerce Department has a huge and disparate domain, from international trade to the census to promoting American businesses, its digital footprint has been much less profound than the industry’s increasing importance to the U.S. economy.
After all, despite some interesting international efforts, most of the current crop of tech stars are U.S. born and bred and leading the way in digital innovation.
In fact, every big trend right now in value creation are all coming out of tech.
Social networking? Facebook and Twitter.
Mobile? Google and Apple.
So, why not pick a business person from the area to lead the government agency dedicated to business?
But that’s where it gets dicey.
One more obvious candidate would be outgoing Google CEO–and Obama favorite–Eric Schmidt.
I would assume he might welcome such a prominent post, although putting him in place at Commerce would be a tough road.
Issue one and only: The investigations of Google’s aggressive business practices by federal regulators make this an awkward decision for Obama, given Schmidt would be open to a lot of scrutiny going through confirmation.
But there is a long list of others who could be considered to serve, especially if you think well outside the box.
What about former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, who certainly has the management cred?
Or mega-VC John Doerr, who–despite his recent social fever–might finally get to push his beloved clean-tech agenda onto a larger stage?
What about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who recently showed she could deliver a boffo speech and who might lend some Silicon Valley magic to her former Washington, D.C. rep?
And while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ laugh would have a hard time getting Congressional approval, why not consider someone who has profoundly changed the way an entire business sector does business?
In that vein, Reed Hastings of Netflix also fits the bill.
Except these three execs are pretty busy these days. So, what about former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, whose failed bid to be California’s governor as the Republican candidate leaves her without a post.
President Barack Obama had picked a GOP pol as his second choice for Commerce head, in fact, so Whitman or even Cisco CEO John Chambers are not out of the question.
The point is to perhaps move outside the Beltway’s comfort zone and pick a Commerce Secretary who represents the future rather than the past.