The 31-Year Old “In Charge Of” Automakers? I’m More Qualified Than This Guy!

So what happens when you go from your PoliSci undergrad degree, float through various political and think tank jobs, begin a law degree, and have no formal training in either economics or business?

You get the job of running GM!

It is not every 31-year-old who, in a first government job, finds himself dismantling General Motors and rewriting the rules of American capitalism.

But that, in short, is the job description for Brian Deese, a not-quite graduate of Yale Law School who had never set foot in an automotive assembly plant until he took on his nearly unseen role in remaking the American automotive industry.

But now, according to those who joined him in the middle of his crash course about the automakers’ downward spiral, he has emerged as one of the most influential voices in what may become President Obama’s biggest experiment yet in federal economic intervention.

While far more prominent members of the administration are making the big decisions about Detroit, it is Mr. Deese who is often narrowing their options.

Now, I don’t want to say anything personally negative about Mr. Deese here. As a bit of a follow-on to my last post, it sounds to me like he’s at no deficit of intelligence. I’m not going to focus on his age as a negative here, because he sounds like he’s quick on his feet and able to learn on the job. I’ve got some understanding for such a person, because my typical way of doing most things is to jump in headfirst and only afterward to learn how to breathe in the new environment. “Sink or swim” is a hell of a lot more exhilarating than treading along carefully.

That being said, I tend to take leaps where I have a working knowledge of swimming and the currents are minimal. Deese just jumped into the ocean, and he’s going to be battling a riptide (the economy) and sharks (the unions, management, debtholders, shareholders) the whole way through. And while he’s apparently [informally] studied some economics, as I have, he has no experience in business.

I can see this ending very badly. Experience is not the end-all be-all of success, but it certainly helps. I’d be less concerned if Deese had some experience in business in general, because while there are certainly peculiarities of one industry to another, general good business sense is widely applicable. But he doesn’t have any business experience. He has academia and “public service” in his past, and that’s about it. What’s scarier? Most of the people he’s advising have the same background, so they may not be able to discern his good recommendations from his bad ones.

General Motors and Chrysler, filled to the brim with experience, couldn’t manage to run their businesses profitably. It’s pure hubris to assume that the Obama administration, staffed with people who have little to no experience, could fare better. And the idea that you trust some bang-up whiz kid who’s the baby of the bunch with this much responsibility? This is either going to be a spectacular moment of greatness in Brian Deese’s life, or one of the most spectacular failures of government meddling we’ve ever witnessed.

I can tell you which way I’d bet.