We've heard a lot about the global economy in recent years. You know, how it's going to bring business together, making it easier than ever for a company in Parsippany to sell products in Paris or Prague.
New Jersey can benefit from this. It’s the reason why two of the most successful makers of cowboy hats in the country are based in Newark and Irvington.
But it’s not all good.
In fact, as we canvassed the state, asking those in the know to give us the 100 most powerful people in business, we found the downside.
Industry insiders continually said they were disappointed by how many leaders at big Jersey companies seemingly had little interest in New Jersey.
Other than just making money.
It didn’t used to be like that, they said, longing for the days when ‘going global’ meant flying Pan Am.
One veteran lawyer — who has been in the room when some of the titans of industry hashed out ideas with the powers-that-be in government — pointed it out.
“I think there is a big disconnect between the political power structure and the people who really — from a business standpoint — control the largest enterprises in the state,” the veteran insider said. “Much more so than when I started. When I started, those things were almost inseparable.”
He blames it on the way businesses are now merged and acquired.
“(For) big corporate players in New Jersey, 30 years ago, the CEO was in the state,” he said. “Now the CEO is not in the state because they sold the business and the owner is someplace else.”
But it’s not all out-of-state, out-of-mind.
Many leaders who work here don’t seem to care, either. Again, blame the global economy.
“For the CEOs who are in the state, New Jersey is not that important to them, so they just don’t pay a lot of attention to it,” the source said.
And why should they, it can be reasoned.
If you are beholden to the stockholders or the bottom line, selling products in Tokyo, Texas or even Timbuktu means more than helping rebuild the school system or social services in Trenton.
Ahh, Trenton. That’s another reason.
“To be honest with you, we’ve had a litany of bozos (as governors) who (business leaders) just don’t want to have anything to do with,” the insider said.
The person didn’t know if he should laugh or cry when retelling the stories, but the source assured me he had been in plenty of meetings where the governor — or one of the governor’s appointees — was embarrassingly unprepared and uneducated about the ways of business.
(And before you partisans read too much into this, the veteran had nothing but praise for the current administration.)
Is there any hope?
Of course. But it’s going to take a lot more Jersey to turn it around.
“I would say that the people who are more likely to pay attention to their level of power in New Jersey are those who actually do believe that New Jersey is a key part of their business,” the insider said.
With such a diverse (and densely populated) state, that shouldn’t be too hard to do.
It better not be: Our little part of the global economy may just depend on it.
— Tom Bergeron
Letter from the Editor: Jersey first — Some CEOs don't see it that way