Obama's 'Got the Wrong Message': Hotel Mogul

America's business leaders are ready to do their part to revitalize the economy if only the White House would ask for help, Starwood Capital Group CEO Barry Sternlicht told CNBC.


Instead, President Obama has spent too much time demonizing Wall Street and traveling the country to engage in counterproductive politicking, said the founder of a company that has done some of the world's largest hotel and hospitality deals over the past 20 years.

Sternlicht said the nation's corporate heads feel shut out by a president who on Tuesday gave a blistering speech in which he cited "breathtaking greed in the financial industry" and faulted Republicans for following "you're on your own" economics.

"I think he's got the wrong message," Sternlicht said. "I don't think that's the way this country's supposed to be functioning. You know, a very famous bank executive said, 'If Obama asked us to help him we would help him.' Instead he acts like we cheated."

Two specific areas he said need help are education and jobs.

The nation's unemployment rate in November slipped to 8.6 percent from 9.0 percent. But the drop was due largely to a decrease in those actually looking for jobs, while the average duration of unemployment surged to a record-high 41 weeks and wage growth remained stagnant.

In its attempts to improve education and cut the jobless rate, Washington has been too focused on providing benefits for those who don't work instead of getting them back on the job, Sternlicht said.

"The frustration with myself and other executives is the money's being thrown out the door," he said. "If you told me you're going to give $100 billion to job training, we would all sign up and contribute to the bucket."

"The extension of unemployment benefits ... we all feel we need to do something there and it's humane," he added. "But the real issue is, how do we continue to invest in their well being, career and long-term sustainable future? Obama is not doing this. This is really pure politics in my opinion."

The primary reason for the stubbornly high unemployment rate, he added, is the poor education system.

Unemployment among those with no high school diploma is 13.2 percent and high school graduates are at 8.8 percent. But the rate is just 4.4 percent for those with a college degree.

"You're seeing a failed public education system," Sternlicht said. "You're seeing its report card in our unemployment rates."

On jobs, Obama has been trying to usher through a $447 billion package, parts of which have received congressional approval.

The bill focuses primarily on infrastructure and federal money to hire teachers and first responders, as well as more controversial measures such as the extension of a payroll tax cut.

"You can't call what he just offered as a jobs bill. I'm insulted," Sternlicht said. "I really think this is insulting to say a quarter of your bill is a payroll tax cut or the extension of a payroll tax cut and another 80 billion — half the bill is nothing — unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut. That does nothing to create jobs, nothing."