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Teaching business leaders about politics in an 'Occupy' world

Professor Gerry Keim
December 15, 2011

From “Occupy Wall Street” to presidential elections, it’s becoming more important than ever for business leaders to understand how the business world and the political arena intersect.

Gerry Keim, professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, has been teaching business executives and students the importance of getting involved in the political process for years. He will now carry his messages to an even larger audience as the newly named chairman of the board of The Washington Campus, a nonprofit university consortium in the District of Columbia.

“Many businesses fail to engage in Washington until they get into serious trouble,” explains Keim, who is also chair of the Management Department at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “They’re not proactive until they get burned, and then they start to think ‘now what should we do.’ I want to change that.”

Keim says the Occupy Wall Street movement has brought the connection between business and politics into sharp focus. For example, he notes politicians have become more sensitive to issues like executive salaries, distributing big bonuses and outsourcing jobs.

“Businesses now need to explain what they’re doing and why,” says Keim, who has consulted for major companies, including Bayer AG, Exxon, Pfizer Inc., State Farm Insurance and Sears, Roebuck & Co. “Layoffs to reduce costs, big salary increases at the top and other major business decisions are under scrutiny. High unemployment and concern that the distribution of wealth in this country is becoming more unequal are driving attention now directed at business practices.”

Keim says companies shouldn’t just monitor activity in Washington. They should actively participate, mobilizing employees, retirees and even business rivals with similar interests in public policy issues.

“It’s been said democracy isn’t a spectator sport,” says Keim. “Even U.S. presidents can’t get many major policies through without help from Congress. Therefore, businesses should engage politicians from all of their company-location areas to make an impact. They can even invite political candidates from both parties to speak to employees, demonstrating their voting power and interest.”

Keim, who has been recognized by Businessweek as one of America’s outstanding business school professors, teaches a popular course on “Business and Public Policy” to executive MBA students at the W. P. Carey School of Business. It includes exercises where students create a mock state budget on the actual Senate floor in Phoenix, as well as a trip to Washington to meet key political players. His work with The Washington Campus, a nonprofit university consortium, is an extension of this interest in business and public policy.

The Washington Campus was founded in 1978 by former FDIC chairman and CNBC commentator L. William Seidman, among other major public policy leaders. The organization is aimed at getting business leaders more involved in national policy debates. More than a dozen top business schools are consortium member schools, including those at Georgetown University, Emory University, The University of Texas at Austin, Indiana University, University of Michigan, Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley. Both MBA students and business executives can participate in programs.

For more information about The Washington Campus, visit  For more information about Keim or the W. P. Carey School of Business, visit Business leaders who are interested in learning more about the political process can enroll in the W. P. Carey executive MBA program in which Keim teaches, currently ranked No. 13 in the world by The Wall Street Journal.