Larry Summers: Obama and Clinton Are Very Different Bosses

Sep 28, 2014

“There are differences in working for President Clinton and President Obama,” said Larry Summers in a panel on global finance at the Nantucket Project on Sunday. Summers ought to know: he served as Secretary of the Treasury under the first and Director of the National Economic Council under the second.

“If you have a 10 o'clock meeting with President Obama,” he says, “you should be in your office at 10 minutes before 10, because he might be running early. If you have a 10 o'clock meeting with President Clinton, it’s really okay if you cruise in at 10:05, because he’s not going to be ready until 10:20.”

The differences in meeting styles go beyond punctuality, Summers continued: “If you’re meeting with President Obama, if it’s a 30-minute meeting, at 10:26 his assistant will bring him an index card telling him about this next meeting, and at 10:30, you will be gone. That 30-minute meeting you were supposed to have with President Clinton that was supposed to begin at 10 and actually began at 10:20? At 10:50, he is just warming up.”

Number 42 and Number 44 differ in their approach to meeting prep as well. If Summers gave Obama a memo in advance, he says, “the probability that he would have read the memo was 99.5 percent, and if you attempted to summarize the memo, he would politely but very firmly say, “Larry, I read the memo.” President Clinton? "He might have read the memo. He might not have read the memo. He kind of welcomed your summary.”

While Obama focused on making decisions based on the information his advisers presented, Clinton wasn’t afraid to give his advisers some food for thought. Doing an impression of sorts, Summers recalled the way he’d go off on a tangent: “Larry, you’re talking about the unbanked, people without bank accounts. There was a guy, great guy, used to be mayor of Memphis, he had a program going to help the unbanked—beautiful wife—ran for Congress, I don’t know what happened to him, great guy, you really should look into that program to use unemployed youth to install ATMs.”

Though one was more disciplined and the other more freeform, he said both were effective leaders by staying true to their own styles.

Summers also came to Obama’s defense in the forum when Meredith Whitney, the former stock analyst turned hedge fund manager who correctly predicted the subprime crisis in 2007, said that we’re now in a period of over-regulation.

If it's really true that there's a bureaucratic "war on corporations," Summers asked, then “why is it that the market value as measured by the stock market of American corporate business has grown more rapidly in the five and a half years of this presidential administration than any other administration since 1932? ... why is it that corporate profits as a share of our economy are larger than they have ever been before?"

“It’s just an odd kind of war in terms of the results.”

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