On the merits of experience

Ben_Bernanke_sworn_in_to_the_Federal_Reserve_PostBen Bernanke is now half way through his second term as 14th Chairman of the Federal Reserve. He is not term limited and, though he was first appointed by George W Bush, Barack Obama has already reappointed him once, and could well do so again. It might seem a little early to be speculating on his replacement, but how about Mark Carney?

Carney is unlikely choice, for a number of reasons. First, he’s Canadian. Second, next year he takes up appointment as Governor of the Bank of England – Britain’s equivalent of the Fed. To leave London after only 18 months for a job in Washington would be rude. The case in his favor, however, is compelling. He has been called the most talented central banker of his generation. Having already run Canada’s central bank and will soon be running Britain’s. He intends to hold the job for five years, and by then the Fed job will be coming up again. On talent and experience, one might expect him to be the obvious front-runner. Or, perhaps, after London, it will be Frankfurt, and the European Central Bank.

Of course, in the public sector, jobs are not usually filled like this. If Plattsburgh needs a new mayor, it doesn’t shop around to see if any neighboring towns have talented mayors looking for a new challenge. New York does not look to recruit the mayor of Chicago, Los Angeles, or London (though the present Mayor of London was actually born in New York, where his father worked at the UN).

But this is precisely how jobs are filled in the private sector. The recruiting pool might well include the number two internally, or in another, similar, organization, or someone doing a similar job in, say, a slightly smaller competitor. By jumping from the Bank of Canada to the Bank of England, Carney is doing something that would be common and entirely unworthy of note, if they were ordinary commercial banks.

Perhaps London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, should be considered a front runner to succeed Michael Bloomberg. Johnson is widely presumed to aspire to 10 Downing Street, but taking one job does not have to exclude taking the other at a later date, or indeed going on to be US president.

Perhaps the public sector – and this will include voters – should stop thinking of talent as something that has to be home grown. Why should New York not elect as its governor someone who has already been governor of another nearby state? William Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts, has lived in New York since 2000. In 2006 he sought the governorship, coming second at the GOP nominating convention and securing the nomination of the Libertarian Party. He would have been only the second person, after Sam Houston, to serve as governor of two different states.

But this should not be uncommon. In the private sector, relevant experience is considered a positive benefit in a job candidate, not something freakishly unusual. Many states have residency requirements for candidates, but no competency or experience requirements. In a modern, cosmopolitan and globalized world, does this make any sort of sense?

The notion that living in a state gives you some special insight into its people and its problems does not stand up. Does New York City have more in common with Plattsburgh or Chicago?

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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