The business of Billary

I had an a-ha! moment in Chicago after attending a workshop on family-owned businesses at the ASBDC conference. Family-owned businesses are often dysfunctional, because the role in the family is not made distinct from the role in the family-owned business. The instructor used the example of the business owned by dad and/or mom with the children/employees expected to come to Sunday dinner every week, where the conversation would inevitably devolve into talking shop. The people providing the jobs and the people providing the meal are exactly the same, so the family dynamic interferes with the business dynamic, and disaster often follows.

It occurred to me that two of my favorite TV shows involve family-owned businesses, and the dysfunction that it brings, both on ABC: Brothers & Sisters and Dirty Sexy Money. The former is about a guy who owns a produce business; he dies in the first episode, and the succession plan doesn’t always go as he planned, with his elder daughter in charge, much to the resentment of at least one of his sons and his brother-in-law. In DSM, the protagonist tries and fails to stay out of the family businss that his late father worked in but gets sucked into the bizarre family/business dynamic.

One conversation that was taking place at the conference was whether Bill Clinton, supposedly insightful politician, regardless of your political view of him, intentionally sabotaged his wife’s campaign for President, One woman said, “How could he not have?” Here’s my theory; there is this company called Billary. Going back to the late 1970s, its mission was to elect Bill Clinton governor of Arkansas, then later, POTUS. So, by necessity, Bill was CEO of Billary, Inc.

Then it was Hillary’s turn to run things. Except that Bill was used to being the CEO of Billary. Heck, he was used to being “leader of the free world”. So while he may have really tried to cede authority to her, the old business dynamic, mixed with their…complicated family dynamic, got in the way. In an ABC interview in August, Bill Clinton said as much, responding to attacks on his wife as a husband, rather than as a surrogate for the candidate.

In many situations, such as when a new department head is chosen at a university, what the former chair does affects the outcome. When the retired one sticks around in some emeritus status, some of the staff will continue to him or her. Whereas when the older one slips quietly into the sunset, that issue doesn’t arise.

So, I’m convinced that Billary didn’t work in its quest to nominate Hillary as President because it was a dysfunctional business. Moreover, I think Barack Obama did not choose Hillary to be his running mate because he did not want to be tied down to that broken dynamic.

Top photo (c) 2008 by Mary Hoffman


Continued from Saturday, June 18.

Why are there over a half dozen Boston media trucks parked in front of the Boston Park Plaza Hotel? It can’t be for JEOPARDY!

Being an information specialist, I figure I’d better find out, and who better to consult than the doorman?

So, I asked him. He gave me that look that said, “You dummy!”, but he answered, “The President’s coming!” I was going to ask him the president of what, but then I got it. THE President is coming here? But why?

As it turned out, President Clinton, Vice-President Gore, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and other dignitaries were going to be at the hotel for a fancy (read: high-priced) fund-raising dinner. The President was in Cincinnati earlier in the day, but was flying in for this evening.

You need to remember the time frame: this was the Monicagate era. Eventually, I could look down from my upper story room (12th floor?) and see many hundred protesters. It seemed that they were split about 50/50. Half were upset with President Clinton because of his behavior and the effect it had on the country. But the other half was outraged by Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor, for putting all of the lurid details about Bill and Monica on the Internet. “Pornographer” was often used in the anti-Starr signage. (My view at the time was “a pox on both houses.”)

Judy, Max and I went to see an OMNIMAX showing of a movie about Mount Everest, which was most exciting. (Max going to the OMNIMAX – how cool is THAT for a teenager?, I thought). Then we went out to dinner. When we got back, 4 of the 5 building entrances were inaccessible for security reasons. (I heard later in an interview that Alex Trebek also had difficulty getting back in, but I did not see him.)
There was a large canopy that stretched to the middle of the street. One could not see anyone coming in or out of the event. Cars would drive under the canopy, then out. When we walked back from dinner, we noted that the glass was tinted as well (and bullet-proof, too, I gather.) We also saw security on adjoining rooftops.

We went into the hotel through the only means of access and went up to my room. Judy’s car was in the lot, and she was unlikely to be able to get out very easily. Also, the event downstairs was apparently running late, so we watched the last episode of the Larry Sanders Show on HBO. Judy and Max left around 11:30, when the roads were finally clear, and they stayed at a nearby hotel. I went to bed but slept fitfully.

The next morning, I went down to get my complementary breakfast, but I really couldn’t eat. In fact, I was feeling a little queasy. We were to meet in the hotel lobby with our change of clothes at 11:30 a.m. We rode in a couple vans for the two or three block trip to the Wang Center.

We went into a room and met Susanne Thurber, talent coordinator, who gave us tips on playing the game. Among other things, she noted that the place was much larger (seating capacity 3200) than the small theater where the show is filmed (250). She noted that a good game involves clearing the board, so we should go right to the next clue as soon as possible, always indicating the category and the amount. We should be upbeat. (She told us a lot of other good stuff which I’ve since forgotten.)

Boston was really psyched to have JEOPARDY! in town. The show had traveled before, to Stockholm, Washington, DC and Berkeley, but this was a first for this town. I understand that it was chosen because of the extremely high viewership per capita. The Globe, the Herald, and even the Christian Science Monitor were there, interviewing Susanne, Alex Trebek, head writer Gary Johnson, and others.

This is how the Boston Herald’s Marisa Guthrie described the set (9/19/98): “The Wang stage was littered with Boston props, from a bigger-than-life sculpture of Paul Revere astride his trusty mare to a scaled-down replica of the Old North Church with the top of the steeple cut off. (It won’t show up on camera anyway.)” There was a preponderance of red brick everywhere, from the game board to the players’ lecterns.

In fact, if you go here, and click on “Boston photo album”, you’ll see the set, including a picture of (ahem) me. If you’re in the “Contestants” field, you will also see (er) me. (The interview section is no longer functional; whatever profundities that I said are now lost to the ages.)

I’m wandering around on stage, when suddenly, I had the sense that I was being followed. Some guy I don’t know says, “Glad to see you, Roger. Good luck!”

Continued on Saturday, July 2.

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