Sitting across from me with the cheery disposition of a veteran corporate dealmaker with an aura of strength and knowledge clearly honed by experience was United States Senator David Perdue. Elected to the Senate from Georgia in 2014 he bears the distinction of being currently the only member of Congress to have been a Fortune 500 CEO.
Our interview covered how he now brings his business background to his work in Congress, how sees our current economic and international climate and the most pressing fiscal issues our country faces, as well as the advice he has for young people hoping to make an impact on the country.
A CEO In The Senate
Reminiscing to his times as the chief executive of Dollar General and Reebok, amid executive roles at numerous other companies over his decades-long work in the business world, he compared his current role as “humbling” and one of “not a peacemaker but a bridge-maker.”
In describing his current approach in the Senate he states how “in business you have to get people rallied around a mission and a direction, and that's the role I have here in the Senate, trying to get through to these different factions to find common so we can get something done.”
A Georgia-native before his career took him around the world, it also was apparent he has held close to his roots. A soft-accent hummed as he admired the women and men who served in his United States Senate seat before him. He even served peanuts and cold drinks of the Atlanta-headquartered Coca-Cola Company.
When asked what from his prior career as a businessman and CEO he now finds beneficial as a Senator, he states, “I think the sense of urgency is the number one thing that I bring to this conversation here. Washington gets so used to talking about an issue...but they really don't hold themselves accountable to getting something done so I try to bring that sense of urgency”
Perdue’s sense of urgency is getting results. The former CEO is passionate about getting the government funded on-time and recently led the charge to extend the Senate’s work calendar by cancelling the chamber’s August recess, a time where members of Congress work in their states or travel internationally to meet with foreign leaders.
Senator Perdue also said his business background was particularly useful when working on the recent tax reform bill enacted back in late 2017. “I knew that our corporate tax rate was not competitive, and yet we a lot of people in Washington who had no experience with any of that. So I had to explain to the damaging impact a border adjustment tax would have on our economy.”
“We need more people with real business backgrounds...and I think we need more outsider perspectives too.”
Indeed, Senator Perdue believes that career politicians-of which he most clearly is not one as being now 68-years old and only in the Senate for about three and a half years so far-are a major cause of the current problems in Washington. “Well they think this job is a career...and that just didn't happen till the latter part of the 20th century.” He said. “I don't know what caused it, but that didn't exist before.”
He joked that maybe it was because air-conditioning didn’t exist back in our republic’s earlier days, but either way he said “I think there's a growing need for people that have an outside perspective.”
Going against the traditional ways of the politician, he talks about how “I'm not up here to just get my name on a bill. That's what so many politicians hold their own self-value to and they lose perspective. I always ask, ‘What did the bill do? Did it change America? Did it protect our republic?’ Those should be the objectives, and that’s the perspective of someone from the outside not trying to make this a career.”
Going From Business to Public Service
One of the ways Senator Perdue stands out amid a sea of politicians in D.C. is precisely because he is one of the few business leaders who have made the jump into public service.
He describes his motivations in making the switch as having seen what he describes as two crises, “a global security crisis…and a debt crisis which underpins the global security crisis, and this debt crisis is the worst we’ve had in the history of this country and really does threaten the republic.”
“I saw those two things so clearly and how intermeshed they were so I wanted to help by lending both my international perspective and business perspective,” as he mentioned how in his business-career he had lived on several continents and worked in about all of them.
On The Issues – National Security, Debt, Trade, And Entitlements
Senator Perdue firmly knew the kinds of policy priorities he is focused on in Washington and described the diverse array of problems he’s contributing his efforts to tackling. With a wide policy portfolio from our military policy to fiscal reform, we talked about which areas he is most focused as a Senator.
Speaking first of our international position, he states how “the world is really rejoicing at our reengagement. I travel a lot as a member of the Armed Services Committee, I was on Foreign Relations before that, so I've talked to a lot of heads of states around the world… they need America and they want America to lead.”
“That doesn't mean putting 100,000 troops in Syria, that just means they need America to coalesce around what it is we're trying to do…I think the battle is now between self-determination and state control. There are two countries dominating on state control and that's Russia and China.”
Yet Senator Perdue’s business-mind also has naturally led him to focus too on our national debt, spending, and the federal budget. He even hangs a debt clock in his Senate office’s lobby, every second jumping up more and more.
“What we believe is economic opportunity for everybody, no guarantees, fiscal responsibility, limited government, and individual liberty.” He says after describing how as Senator he has focused on trying to fix health care, taxes, regulation, energy, Dodd-Frank and more.
“We’ve got a situation where the federal government is bloated up to such a big size…we’re spending trillions of dollars on things that don't work.”
He even described a particularly impressive fiscal accomplishment for those aware of the immense inertia of our country’s largest agency expenditure-the Department of Defense. He spoke of how for about 20 years the Department of Defense had been required to conduct an audit but had also declined, saying it was too difficult.
“I said ‘wait, you’re the same size as Wal-Mart’ so go and get me that audit.” Senator Perdue described. “And so this November we’re going to have our first audit.”
Tariffs have also been prominently in the news as well as a former CEO Senator Perdue had a very developed perspective on that. He described how much of the current back-and-forth are in fact negotiations to get us on a level-playing field with those who have had advantageous agreements since the post-World War II era.
He is confident that the current trade conflicts will not hurt our long-term relationships with our allies, stating “The need for [our alliances] to be close has never been greater. The President realizes we need to continually reinforce [that]… That doesn't mean we can't talk about trade and the other things we need to talk about.”
“At the end of the day we are still allies and they are getting reassured of that every day. I've been part of those conversations. “
Lastly, it is also apparent that Senator Perdue also had a zeal for fixing the problems in Social Security and Medicare, which he sees as a key part of our larger national debt problem.
“You will never solve the debt crisis until you save Social Security and Medicare… The opportunity to fix those without hurting anybody who needs it are readily available to us.”
Advice For Young People
Senator Perdue’s big piece of advice to young people was “develop the ability to add value, no matter where you are.”
“That means you are learning life skills… being involved in local politics, being knowledgeable about the issues and the facts.” He described, having just spoken to hundreds of politically active high school students that morning at the Turning Point USA High School Leadership Summit in DC. “So they gotta read.”
The four books he suggested were “The Hundred-Year Marathon” (Michael Pillsbury), “On China” (Henry Kissinger), Hank Paulson’s new book (seemingly “Dealing with China”), and the over half-century old “The Gulag Archipelago” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).
“I think young people need to be self-aware, they need to be purposed...to be knowledgeable about the issues, not just listen to one side or the other…and if you come down on one side, I would be very diligent about finding whether you can trust the source of the data.”
“An 18-year old's vote is just as important as President Donald J. Trump's vote, and you kind of have to think about the responsibility of that—what it means. You can't just have an opinion, you have to be able to know why you have an opinion.”
He particularly warned young people against the call of socialism. “It’s shocking to see young people think socialism is actually a better alternative to capitalism. I've lived under a single-payer health plan, and I do not want that for my kids, grandkids, or myself. I don't want some committee telling me I can't have a knee or hip surgery.”
The Good Aspects Of Technology
Despite the generation gap, Senator Perdue also clearly understood well the impact and nature of social media too. When asked his favorite app or platform he quickly and confidently said “Well you got to love Twitter right? When the President of the United States can put a Tweet out and get more than 50 million people reading it? Oh my goodness.”
Back To Work
And with that our interview concluded, as Senator Perdue had to rush off to another event on the floor of Congress that he had just come from before our meeting. There are hundreds of members of Congress but only one with as prominent a contrasting business-to-policy background as Senator David Perdue, who clearly still utilizes the business senses he developed in his many-decades career now in serving the people of Georgia and the United States.
This originally was originally published on July 27, 2018.