Rick Snyder, MBA '79/JD '82, Elected Next Governor of Michigan
Ross alum vows to reinvent the state's economy.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Republican Rick Snyder, MBA '79/JD '82, will become the next governor of Michigan after beating Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, the Democrat, by a wide margin in the Nov. 2 gubernatorial vote.
A businessman who never held political office, Snyder plans to re-invent the government in Michigan, a state hit hard by the economic downturn. In his victory speech, he drew cheers by reiterating his plan to eliminate the unpopular Michigan Business Tax and replace it with a flat six percent corporate income tax.
His election caps a campaign many pundits thought improbable when launched. Snyder was a political unknown who ran in a Republican field crowded with familiar names. But his “one tough nerd” campaign ads and matter-of-fact approach to problem solving struck a chord with voters. He also reached out to independents early on.
The former president and CEO of Gateway Inc., Snyder set up venture capital fund Ardesta in Ann Arbor and helped create and lead Ann Arbor SPARK, a public-private economic development organization. He's always pursued lofty goals but usually quiets naysayers with concrete achievements. Snyder has quieted critics again, but much work remains. He'll be challenged by Michigan's deficit, high unemployment, and a history of political regionalism.
The following are excerpts from an interview conducted with Snyder shortly after he announced his candidacy.
Dividend: Why did you decide to run for governor, despite never having held office before?
Snyder: The most frequently asked question I get is, "Why would you want to be governor?" And the interesting part is the intonation as much as the question. People wonder why someone would want the job given the circumstances. But I really do, and it's for the intersection of three reasons. One, Michigan is an economic disaster. We're losing a million jobs this decade, we have (high) unemployment. We're losing a family every 12 minutes. Two, I believe there's a fundamental lack of leadership in Lansing. There's no clear direction, there's no vision, they're ignoring problems, and using Band-Aids instead of long-term, structural fixes. And they're in conflict instead of working together for the common good. Three, I don't believe that a traditional politician is the answer. I think [traditional politicians] come from a culture that's broken. We need to bring the knowledge and tools from the business world to get us on a positive track and fundamentally reinvent the economy in this state and in our government.
Dividend: We've heard plans to reinvent government before from others. How can you, as a political outsider, get that done?
Snyder: Look at the business world: We reinvent ourselves multiple times or we wouldn't be in business. There have been a number of periods where that's the case. You can look at the period we're in now, or look at the tech bubble period. You can identify multiple periods where if we didn't reinvent our practices we would have been put out of business. Those are the kind of skill sets we've learned that we need to apply to government. A simple case I like to talk about is the budgeting process. It's been an absolute failure in the state of Michigan. [The state government shut down twice in recent years when budgets were not agreed upon in time.] Your business would never survive if you did cost-based budgeting. There's where departments ask for money, say they're going to do a whole bunch of stuff, and then next year ask for more money so they can do more stuff.
What we need is outcomes-based budgeting, which lays out a set of outcomes to achieve. We would be held accountable and measured against other states and even other countries. We want to deliver results and tell people, 'This is how we're going to build up a budget. You, as citizens, customers, want to buy these services and deliver these outcomes.' They say you can't do that in government. Well, it's worked successfully in other places, why aren't we looking at it here? It's not impossible in government.
Dividend: You are a product of the new economy, or what we used to call the new economy, and you've lived in other states. You've also led a big tech company. What does Michigan need to do to rebound, and how would you get that done?
Snyder: We need to change the concept of government from bureaucracy to customer service. The role of government should be to serve our citizens and customers. And everything we do shouldn't be through the lens of, 'We're government and we're going to go out and do stuff.' It should be, 'If you're a citizen, how can we help you be more successful?' And within that we need to be much more competitive on our tax and regulatory system. The Michigan Business Tax is the dumbest tax in the United States. Our regulatory system is biased toward assuming people are bad and they need to be controlled, versus the average citizen is good and you need to deal with the exceptions. So we need to actually make a much more competitive playing field and reduce these Band-Aid things like incentives. If you have a competitive playing field, you don't need Band-Aids. The second thing is to go to the concept of value-for-money budgeting. What's the return on investment we're giving you? Why are we a good shopping choice? We need to be showing our worth to be on your shopping list.
Dividend: What did you learn at Ross that maybe you've applied to your career and your campaign?
Snyder: I learned a lot there. That's a tough question because it's blended so much into my life. It's just part of me. One thing I really appreciated was that most of the people I met in business school had work experience. Here I was, a kid of 19, working in teams with these people. And it was just an awesome experience when people who had divergent backgrounds developed the chemistry to work as a team. It's one of those soft things, but it was a critical skill set to learn.
I've faced the challenge of people saying I can't do something my entire career. Actually, I thrive on that. I built this plan to get three degrees in six years when I was 16. So I designed it to get my bachelor's when I was 19, my MBA when I was 20, and my law degree when I was 23. I was an adjunct professor in the business school teaching tax when I was 24, 25, 26. I'd show up and most of the people were older than I was. But that's an important lesson. Teaching working people isn't taking the position that you're smarter or better than anyone else. I just happen to have more knowledge in the field, and we're there to learn together. We're all solid people. People aren't better than one another. The question is, how can you take that knowledge and share those tools with other people so we can all learn together? That's the same kind of message I want to bring to government.
For more information, contact:
Terry Kosdrosky, (734) 936-2502, email@example.com