Bob Sherman has served as the United States Ambassador to Portugal. He is a shareholder at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig and serves on board of Novo Banco, a US PE-backed bank based in Portugal. In this episode he shares his journey in the Obama campaign and then the Biden campaign and through that lens shares what he believes boards and companies should expect from the new Biden administration and how they may want to take advantage of the opportunities that will be available. We also talk about what governance structure for a US embassy looks like and the importance of getting it right.
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On What Presidential Elections are about
“When it comes to presidential races, it's really only about two things; stay the course or change. And if it's about change, the issue is, what kind of change?”
“The thing that I learned in that campaign starting in Iowa was the presidential campaigns are about the future. It's not what you've done in the past. It's what you're going to do for people.”
Who Joe Biden is?
“Joe Biden embodied these values: personal integrity, a commitment to national values and a desire to restore international relations.”
“He believes in his bones that people need to be respected and that they should have a sense of dignity themselves. This concept again of dignity and the notion, to use his words, of dealing people back into the process is going to be highly important.”
“Joe Biden, by DNA and by disposition, is a different person than Barack Obama. He's a moderate, first and foremost. He's a creature of the Senate.”
I believe that what we're going to see is a new social contract. I think you're going to see is a lot of focus on the business community and corporate America being a partner in the solutions to the problems that we face.
Governance of a US Mission
When I was preparing to be Ambassador to Portugal, Bill McRaven the four-star navy admiral, who just a couple of years previously was the architect of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, said something that really stayed with me: "I am a four-star navy admiral." he said, "But you have to remember, when I'm addressing you, you have a fifth star; so you're welcome to call me Admiral, and you're welcome to call me Bill, but I call you sir, and not the other way around." “This is important. Chain of command is important to us. Military authority always reports to civilian authority. That's the way our government is set up, and that's the way we operate.”
Based on what Joe Biden has said and based on who he is, we have clues on what boards and corporations should expect in the new administration. The notion of stakeholder capitalism, beyond just shareholder fiduciary duty, is likely to be accelerated. Diversity of boards reflecting the diversity of the population will get a big push; equitable pay and executive compensation is also likely to get emphasis; and science being basis for decision making in addressing existential threats in areas like climate change, energy, and healthcare.
My wife and I went to Philadelphia together [during the first Obama campaign] and we were in South Philly at the time. Again, the cornerstone of the Obama campaign was engaging voters one by one. That's what we did, and we were walking through neighborhoods, knocking on doors, engaging with voters, when we saw three African American women sitting on a stoop, and we thought, "Aha., these are probably good people to engage and likely voters for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton given the fact that they were African-American.
We went up to them to talk about why they should be voting for Senator Obama, and one of the women looked at us and said, "You know, my son has a learning disability. I can't get services for him; He's failing in school. He feels isolated, so now he's joining gangs because he feels like he's a part of something. I'm worried every day that I'm going to get a call that my son is dead. You tell me what Barack Obama is going to do for somebody like me."
That was an eye-opening experience because you realize that within the country, there are so many people that don't feel there's any connection they have to the federal government, and there are people that feel that the American dream is out of reach.
What Joe Biden has made clear during the campaign is that he believes in predictability, that government should be predictable for the business community. So, I think we're going to see a much more consistent approach to the issues than maybe we have seen in the past. That decisions should be science based so, I think that science is going to play a big role in how decisions get made in a Biden administration. And perhaps most importantly, there is his commitment to human dignity. He believes in his bones, that people need to be respected and that they should have a sense of dignity themselves.
I think you're going to also see, not incidentally, non-politicized decision making. He said he wants to be a President for all the people and will work as hard for the people that voted against him as for those that did. This concept again of dignity and the notion, to use his words, of "dealing people back into the process" is going to be highly important.
The concept that boards owe fiduciary duty to all stakeholders is gaining momentum, and has been for a while, and if what you're saying comes to pass, it will be something to really keep an eye on because leadership from the top could accelerate the momentum that’s been building and it'll be interesting to see where it leads us.
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