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Bush, Chuan: a lesson in management styles

Dec 22, 2000

President-elect George W Bush plans to run the White House in a corporate management style. He will assume the role of a chairman overseeing broad policies. Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, who will bring his extensive experience in defence and national security to the executive office, will take charge as chief executive officer (CEO). Andrew Card, who will be appointed as the White House's chief of staff, will become chief operating officer (COO).

Bush has been serving in government for only six years and has had virtually no Washington experience. With this management structure, he should be comfortable in the most powerful executive office in the world. Since Bush is not known as an executive with an eye for detail, he can rely on Cheney and Card to work closely with him on new initiatives or nitty-gritty issues confronting the executive office on a day-to-day basis.

If elected, Thaksin Shinawatra, the leader of the Thai Rak Thai, intends to run the country as Thailand Inc. He fashions his leadership style as a CEO, in a way criticising the leadership of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, who has allowed Finance Minister Tarrin Nimmanahaeminda, the chief financial officer (CFO), to run the whole show. His campaign on strong leadership has been rather appealing to the electorate, although nobody is quite certain how he will use his leadership to implement policies that would actually deliver results.

Chuan will need to beef up his leadership style to earn renewed confidence. He is the embodiment of the bureaucratic system, which still dominates the conduct of the country's affairs. During his three-year tenure, Chuan did not attach much importance to his team of advisers at Baan Pitsanulok, the Thai answer to the White House. Instead, he relied on Tarrin, who centralised all the strategic management decisions because the Finance Ministry controls the purse of the country.

Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, the deputy prime minister and head of the economic team, failed to play any notable role in the management of the country. So the Chuan government for the most part spent most of its time tackling short-term problems without enough concentration to work on the long-term solutions for the country's competitiveness, such as education, technology upgrades or industrial restructuring.

A typical Monday meeting of the Council of Economic Ministers saw Chuan preside over the routine deliberations of reports or proposals submitted by bureaucrats. The Council of Economic Ministers meeting was supposed to screen important agenda before being deliberated by the full Cabinet on the following Tuesday. This format of meetings of the Council of Economic Ministers was time-consuming and did not produce quick results because ministers wasted all their energy reading tonnes of documents without enough time to design or implement the programmes.

Supachai has recently proposed that the new government do away with the present procedures of the Council of Economic Ministers meeting by limiting its scope to deliberating on the sectoral restructuring of the economy. Other committees set up by different ministries will also need to be merged or restructured to ensure that they can speed up their assignments without doing overlapping work, Supachai suggests.

However, this management format has helped Chuan to escape all the blame for the economic crisis, which lands in the lap of Tarrin alone. Nobody took on Dr Amnuay Viravan for failing to tackle the 1997 crisis, but everyone shifted all the blame to the then prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

Many are quick to criticise Chuan's indecisiveness, but Chuan's political manoeuvring is unsurpassed. He prefers to listen to different opinions without giving out his own opinions, thus obscuring his position. Chuan looks upon himself as a champion of parliamentary democracy.

So his utmost objective throughout his three-year tenure was to ensure political stability until the government ended its term. The combination of the Chavalit and Chuan governments produced the first ever time that Parliament served its full four-year term since parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1932.

In this respect, Chuan has made history for himself.




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