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'Joe the CEO' Weighs In on Election '08

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I am boycotting the rest of the presidential campaign. I refuse to read or listen to any more rhetoric or attacks from either campaign. Obama blew his answer to the alleged plumber but McCain fumbled his prosecution of Obama at the debate last week. And now, everyone’s in a scrum (including the media) to score points with Mr. Wurzelbacher, the wannabe business owner. Talk about fiddling while America is burning.

As a CEO, I am concerned about taxes; the ones I pay on behalf of my business and the ones I pay on behalf of my family. Like most CEOs and individual taxpayers, I constantly question my ROI on those taxes and wish the money were better spent. And sure, I am trying to keep as much as possible for my business and my family. The Uncle (Sam) withholdeth, and so do I. That’s human nature. But I accept government and taxes as facts of life, inextricable parts of the democratic equation.

Bigger Fish to Fry
I am not sure which candidate’s administration and work with Congress will result in lower taxes for me and my business (probably McCain) but it is way far from my biggest problem right now.

I’m not sure either candidate has fully grasped what is going on out here, but it has little to do with taxes or earmarks or Bill Ayers. Credit has evaporated, fuel prices are unstable, healthcare costs keep climbing, consumers are suddenly frugal, customers are spooked and investors are frightened and impatient.

I’m glad “small business” is getting some attention lately. There is so much focus right now on celebrity CEOs, along with the bank and insurance mega-CEOs, the medium and small guys have been tarred with the same brush. Look, a lot of us are lucky if we make north of Obama’s Mason-Dixon taxation line in base comp and it could be a long time before we get another bonus. (According to the Tax Policy Center only 2% of small business owners take home more than $250k a year.) And the bonus was never ever going to be the seven and eight figure variety folks have been reading about lately. Hell, we garden variety CEOs resent those bonus recipients as much as the next guy.

Take this job...
I have a number of friends and relatives who are CEOs. Many of them are tired and angry. One told me recently that his internal cost-benefit analysis has been tilting toward COST. Keep in mind that he lives in a Blue State where the cost of living is higher. ($200,000 in comp goes a lot further in Boston, Kentucky than it does in Boston, Massachusetts.) His investors are jamming him, his employees are anxious and less productive these days, he is tired of reading criticism of CEOs as a class in the press, and his family keeps asking if everything is okay. All his household costs are on the rise – fuel, food, healthcare, tuition, taxes. Oh, and he will not be getting a bonus this year.

I’ve known him for a while now and suspect that he will not throw in the towel. Leadership is in his blood, he cares about his company and deep down he loves the challenge. We are all going through a big adjustment in the global economy and our own micro economies. It is painful and it will take some time. There’s a huge gap between Joe the Plumber and Dick “Joe the Banker” Fuld. In that gap are many serious-minded, honest, hard-working and successful CEOs. They may not be named Joe, but they deserve a little respect.

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Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. Mr. Sorenson, 52, oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company. He is widely regarded as an expert on media strategy and industry trends, with experience spanning radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Internet. From 1998 through 2004, Mr. Sorenson served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel. He has won more than twenty Emmy awards as a writer, producer, and television executive.

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