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Business cautiously hopeful on White House output

The US Chamber of Commerce building, dignified as a dark suit, looks out over Lafayette Park toward the White House.Visiting businessmen have a good view of the West Wing. And the nation's chief corporate executives are keeping a close eye on the moving and shaking of government that is coming from the West Wing's oval office.

"I think basically businessmen like what they think is going to come out of Washington," said Jay Van Andel, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee, during a recent interview with this correspondent.

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"But I think business people are realistic enough to say that they hope it all happens. Knowledgeable businessmen are concerned that the political system may not work in accomplishing what needs to be accomplished."

Mr. Van Andel, cofounder and chairman of the board of Amway Corporation, had that morning presented a six- foot hero sandwich to David Stockman. The fuselage-size lunch honored Stockman's budget cutting efforts as head of the Office of Management and Budget.

But Mr. Van Andel said he hoped the cost-cutting proposals wouldn't be thrown aside like old napkins.

"If the special-interest groups have reached such a position of leverage in our government that each group can prevent action in their particular activity, then you're not going to have any results at all," he said.

Van Andel said the current economic situation was a little like war -- a time for general belt-tightening.

"I would use the example of World War II, a major effort in which almost everybody was involved. As long as everybody was paying the price there was great support. Conversely, when you got the Vietnam war, where a handful of people paid the price, and the rest got off scot-free, you almost had insurrection in this country."

Amway Corporation has been a pioneer in the controversial practice of advocacy advertising -- placing ads in major newspapers that sell points of view instead of products. Van Andel feels strongly that one product business hasn't sold well is itself, and that the ads are an effective way of countering this.

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"We think that in a country such as ours, where we have a highly educated, intelligent electorate, that our views must be aired in order for the political system to operate properly. Business, for many years, has been afraid to do this. The typical businessman fears he may fracture relations that are important to his business."

But Van Andel believes the typical consumer is mature enough to separate product from personal opinion. And he claims corporations are not scheming ogres.

"I know big business management is very concerned about their relations with their customers. If they're not, they're going to go out of business."

Instead, he says, their sheer size sometimes make them bumbling, rather than evil.

"To some degree, large companies are not as flexible as small companies. They suffer more from erroneous decisions. They can't quickly decide to change their own direction if they make the wrong product, for instance. A small company can probably get out of that decision. A big company has got such long commitments that it would be years before they get out."

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