Note: this piece was embargoed and meant to be released on the 11th of March 2016.
Last week, we saw a few positive and negative examples of businessmen running countries. Donald Trump is still leading the Republican race. This week we will see a few examples of successful countries without businessmen as leaders. We will find out what skillsets are actually needed and we will thereafter check whether the US presidential hopefuls and the current world leaders share these competencies.
When I was a pupil at school, the geography syllabus made references to the 4 tigers or dragons in Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. At that time, there was some French arrogance in covering these 4 smaller countries with good growth rates and large manufacturing base. Let’s cover a couple of successful leaders in these countries.
We start with Singapore, which recently mourned its former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Lee graduated from Cambridge with the highest honours in Law. During WWII, he learnt Japanese to be able to deal with the occupying nation. He started his career as a lawyer before being seduced by public office. In 1965, as Singapore was ejected from the Malaysian federation, Lee led the country into a major transformation, pushing the income per capita from $500 to nearly $60,000 today. There were several phases of the success story. First develop tourism and beg the British to not destroy the local harbour. Then set up a cheap manufacturing industry, using this harbour in a central location. Third, attract multinational corporations to set up a base in Singapore thanks to world-class infrastructure and the rule of law. In the early 70’s, the likes of Texas Instrument, HP or Hewlett Packard establish Asian bases on the island. Finally, in the late 70’s, develop a financial centre to attract and recycle capital inflows. During these decades, Lee surrounded himself with economists, senior bankers and law professionals, locals or foreigners, in order to keep economic development, fight against corruption and rule of law at the centre of the agenda.
In South Korea, Syngman Rhee and then Park Chung-Hee propelled the country from a level of wealth equivalent to Ghana to Spain in 50 years. Both “presidents” shared a teacher background, an early experience of exile (in the USA for Syngman, after evading jail for political activities and Japan for Park, who was enrolled in the Imperial army) where they learnt foreign languages (English and Japanese). Syngman years in the US helped him build the right high-level connections which decided the US to defend the South against the North in the Korean War while Park used his Japanese links to negotiate that Japan paid some War Reparations and made the soft loans that gave the initial capital to create a manufacturing base in Korea.
What about Europe?
One major success to me of the continent over the past decades has been the creation of the EU. The main proponents of the project, the so-called “fathers of Europe” were Konrad Adenauer (Germany), Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman (France), Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgium), Johan Beyen (Netherlands), Joseph Bech (Luxembourg) and Alcide de Gasperi (Italy).
Mr Bech was a lawyer who studied in France and Germany.
Mr Beyen read law, worked in Switzerland in finance at the Bank of International Settlements and fled to the UK during WWII.
Mr Spaak learnt German as a war prisoner and then studied law, becoming a lawyer.
Mr Monnet left home to live in London and then the US – he was perfectly bilingual, a rare thing before WWI! He was a cognac merchant before becoming a politician. During WWII, in 1940, he was sent to the US to negotiate arm deliveries. This is where he met F.D.Roosevelt and convinced him to start re-arming, leading the whole project. He is credited by John Maynard Keynes to have cut short the war by one year thanks to his skillful planning.
Mr Schuman was born in Luxembourg, lived in Germany when France lost territories in 1870 and then became a lawyer.
Mr De Gasperi was born in what was Austria-Hungary (but now Italy) so had command of German from his youth. He read philosophy and became a politician quite quickly.
Finally, Mr Adenauer studied law and politics and also showed entrepreneurial skills by creating the CDU, the party of Mrs Merkel.
Have you noticed a pattern?
Many successful or visionary politicians share a legal education, significant time spent abroad (voluntarily or forced), mastering foreign languages and making connections at the highest level while abroad with businessmen, economists and politicians.
Why are lawyers so prevalent? Governments are here to write and execute laws, not to run a factory. Having a legal background is therefore a necessary condition.
Why is time spent abroad so important? These leaders have been exposed to new ideas and they have built connections at high levels that they have used with great success thereafter.
Foreign languages? All these leaders are multi-lingual. Look at your company or own life – will languages reduce your prospects or improve them?
Below I summarise the US presidential race as well as some current world leaders. I let you conclude yourselves about the prospects for the US and for the major countries.
US Presidential Race
The current world leaders