WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Having just delivered Corporate America its biggest legislative gift ever in the form of sweeping tax cuts, it’s only natural that U.S. House Speaker and self-described fiscal geek Paul Ryan might want to consider his next gig. The Wisconsin native’s wonkiness wins out over his schmoozer credentials, making a high-profile job on Wall Street or as a K Street lobbyist an unlikely fit. But as this imaginary letter from a potential corporate recruiter suggests, assembling a portfolio of board directorships would be a cinch for the man who cut company taxes down to a slim 21 percent.
Dear Speaker Ryan,
I’m a partner at Atlas Associates, an executive-search firm that serves the world’s biggest corporations to help them meet their leadership needs. Congratulations on your once-in-a-generation achievement of delivering tax reform to the American people. Our corporate clients are also eager to capitalize on the cuts to help the U.S. economy grow and prosper.
We also followed with great interest a recent Politico report about you considering leaving Congress after the 2018 midterm election. I know you said you are not leaving anytime soon, but I’d like to give you a sampling of the opportunities that await you when the time comes.
I understand your preference will be to return to Janesville and focus primarily on promoting policy initiatives, such as fiscal reforms. Serving on a few corporate boards would allow you to work on those issues, but through the lens of local employers that are trying to navigate all the changes taking place in Washington, whether they are tax cuts, regulatory revisions or trade actions. You will still have a duty to your constituents, but voters will be replaced by shareholders. Fortunately, I think you’ll find that reaching consensus on a corporate board is much easier than vote wrangling in Congress.
You are already very familiar with one company that may need a board refresh, Harley-Davidson, which hosted you for a tour at Menomonee Falls in September. Unfortunately, the company is struggling with falling demand. The congressional plan to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent should help the company, given its projected effective tax rate for 2017 is 33.4 percent.
But it is still facing manufacturing challenges. Harley has had to lay off hundreds of American workers over the last year and has established production in Thailand to serve the Asian market. Helping the board and management better understand the implications of Washington moves on trade, and the practical implementation of the new tax code, would be very beneficial in informing strategy.
Johnson Controls is another Badger State company that is deeply concerned about free trade, including NAFTA. Its 2,000 global locations include facilities in Mexico. You appreciate the need to update trade accords, such as your advocacy for dairy farmers in NAFTA, but you also recognize the benefits of global commerce. The company also merged with Tyco in 2016 in an inversion deal that moved its headquarters to Ireland, which you cited as one of the reasons tax reform was needed.
Kohl’s is one of the many retailers struggling against the Amazon juggernaut, though it recently landed a deal with the e-commerce giant to sell some of its products and accept Amazon returns in some stores. Kohl’s is also going through a leadership transition with the upcoming May retirement of Kevin Mansell, who I’m sure you know. Though the company opposed your border adjustment tax provision, it appreciated your flexibility in dropping that measure and is keen to understand how the tax cuts will be implemented in Treasury Department guidance.
Walgreens Boots Alliance is just next door in Illinois. Given your interest in reforming Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs important to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, your presence on the board would be extremely helpful. You can also help the company understand regulatory risks due to new leadership at the Federal Trade Commission.
This year, U.S. Bancorp in nearby Minneapolis lost its Washington-connected boss, Richard Davis. Your presence on the board would help new Chief Executive Andy Cecere, especially since a new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee will take over as Jeb Hensarling leaves Congress. After seven years of living with Dodd-Frank, the banking industry is going through another round of major changes, along with potential housing-finance reforms for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
As you can see, you wouldn’t have to travel far from Janesville to give job-creating companies the benefits of your Washington insights. That will ultimately help workers and customers in Wisconsin and beyond, while still allowing for you to have a hand in policy issues from a real-world perspective. We look forward to discussing these opportunities with you.
Fred Usher Aryduty
Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.
Sign up for a free trial of our full service at https://www.breakingviews.com/trial and follow us on Twitter @Breakingviews and at www.breakingviews.com. All opinions expressed are those of the authors.