NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: There’s an August poll by Chief Executive Magazine that’s out that shows CEOs overwhelmingly back President Bush in his reelection campaign. That is probably not too surprising. Maybe the margin is. He outscores Senator Kerry on virtually every major issue of concern to them.
We’ve assembled our own group of corporate bigwigs to tell us what they really think. Telecom mogul Leo Hindery (search) is the chairman of HL Capital and the man who used to run TCI, AT&T Broadband and the YES Network, to name just a few. He doesn’t fall in line with that Chief Executive survey, though. We’ll tell you that in a second.
David Neeleman (search) also here, the brains behind JetBlue Airways, who I’m pleased to say finally wised up and started adding FOX programming to its in-flight TV systems today. So they got see the boss and us on the same day.
And in Watertown, my good friend, Jack Welch (search), the former G.E. chairman and the head of the consulting firm that bears his fine name, Jack Welch LLC.
Gentlemen, welcome to all.
Jack, I ended with you. Beginning with you, what do you make of that survey? CEOs a largely Republican bunch. I think Leo is the exception here. But not surprising they back the president. Or is it?
JACK WELCH, JACK WELCH LLC: Well, I don’t know whether it’s because they are Republican bunch. I don’t know whether or not they just understand that in times of crisis like this, you need straightforward leadership, someone that can stay the course and recognize over the long haul you keep a position and you get the job done. So I think this is a question of leadership you are seeing now, not political sides one way or the other.
CAVUTO: Leo Hindery, it doesn’t work quite that way with you, right?
LEO HINDERY, HL CAPITAL CHAIRMAN: You know, it doesn’t. I always wanted to work for Jack, who is a dear friend. And the reason I didn’t is because he’d have fired me if I didn’t perform well.
CAVUTO: Well, when I worked for him, he was constantly trying to fire me. I just always hid when he came in the room.
HINDERY: He always had that knob up there in Fairfield.
HINDERY: But, you know, Neil, for me, it’s all results. And, you know, you don’t want to be too clinical here on such an important occasion.
But we have lost, as you and I have discussed in the past, 2.6 million manufacturing jobs in these four years. We are down over a million net jobs. We have had 4.5 million more people be defined in these four years as in the poverty realm. And I know that if I were working for Jack, that is the kind of performance that he would have jumped in with both feet and made changes.
CAVUTO: But you don’t think this president has?
HINDERY: I don’t think this president has. I don’t think this is the time to stay the course. I know there is concern about Iraq and terrorism.
HINDERY: But in the areas of business, I think these results, with all respect to a man I admire more than almost anybody in the country, I think these results beg for change.
CAVUTO: David, what do you think?
DAVID NEELEMAN, JETBLUE AIRWAYS CHAIRMAN & CEO (JBLU): Well, you know, I think I’m a little bit on Jack’s side here. You know, I come from Utah, which means that I usually would be conservative. But I’m more moderate, I’m in the middle. I’m trying to kind of see my way through this.
CAVUTO: You are our Switzerland today, just so you know, trying to argue for both sides.
NEELEMAN: Well, I am. And I haven’t really heard anything that would argue that we should make a change. I think we’re in really difficult times. I don’t think we should change horses right now.
CAVUTO: But what about what Leo mentions on the economy, that it is still struggling, the numbers lately seem to indicate a bit of a hiccupping going on?
NEELEMAN: Well, I think the globalization of our economy is continuing. And I don’t think you can’t hang that on President Bush.
You know, I think there are a lot of things that have changed. I think we have to do some things differently. And I wouldn’t blame President Bush for the loss of jobs.
I think, you know, us, business leaders, have to take some responsibility for that, and kind of build our own economies and do things, you know, more efficiently, with more technology. And I don’t think that is something we can blame the president for.
CAVUTO: Jack Welch — I’m sorry, David. If it is so hunky-dory out there, then why are the polls so tight? And usually, as you know, Jack, as a good student of political history, that a lot of those undecided voters, few as they are, generally break for the challenger, which would not be good news for the incumbent. Are you worried?
WELCH: No, I’m not. And Neil, I love Leo. Everything Leo has ever touched has turned to gold from TCI on. So, I’m a fan.
CAVUTO: Even with the Yankees? Even with the Yankees you are saying that?
WELCH: Well, he got the YES Network, so I’ve got to give him credit.
WELCH: No, you’ve got to stay here with me, Neil, on this one, because I can’t let Leo off the hook here.
The president inherited a disastrous economy, which Leo was well aware of. It started in August of 2000. Then we had the dot-com blow-up, which Leo is well aware of. And then we had 9/11.
So this president is in a turnaround. He took over a disaster and has turned it around. We have had six quarters of steady growth.
CAVUTO: What do you think of that, Leo, that he inherited a mess and then he fixed it?
WELCH: That’s my view.
HINDERY: You know under six sigma, we were never allowed four years to correct our ills. But, you know, I understand the travails, Neil, that the president encountered when he came into office. But there are some systemic issues under way here that just concern me greatly, that the loss of manufacturing jobs the fact that 2.2 million people have left this workforce permanently, as best we can tell.
CAVUTO: All right. By the way, this is nothing personal against you, Leo. There is a powerful outage going on amongst some of the major studios here, ours included.
It was not that we just got tired of listening to Leo and we wanted to have the lights go out. But this is the scene of the floor right here. So we’re having to deal with some stuff.
Jack Welch, where miraculously the lights are still working, I want to go back to you on this notion that this election will be decided either on the economy or terror. What do you think?
WELCH: I think it will be decided on a combination of both, with terror being the main factor. And a recovering economy, Neil, will neutralize some of the discussion that Leo had.
Look, this thing is going to break in a way that I think last night you saw John McCain and Rudy Giuliani lay out the case so clearly for a long haul, tough, tough sledding, leadership that we are going to need. And I think that the country is going to swing strongly towards the president with this last eight to 10 percent of the vote.
CAVUTO: David, let me ask you, as we look down on the floor there, and a lot of these delegates will be gathering tonight, they’re going to listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Laura Bush, and all, what do you want to hear out of these guys?
NEELEMAN: Well, I think leadership is so important right now. I mean, you find that in our industry and the airline business, you know.
NEELEMAN: I spend my whole day talking leadership and how I think now is not the time to change our course. I mean, I think we’ve got a tremendous problem with terrorism in the world, and we have got to figure out a way to fix it.
And, you know, I just haven’t seen anything that would convince me that we should make a change right now. I think we should stay the course.
CAVUTO: OK. We’ll stay the course with the present electricians here and see if they can work some miracles.
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