Roger Staubach, executive chairman of Jones Lang LaSalle, hosted an insightful panel discussion on Corporate America’s post-election future last week at the Winspear Opera House. Sharing their frank opinions were energy icon T. Boone Pickens, Texas Instruments President and CEO Rich Templeton, Karen Katz, president and CEO of The Neiman Marcus Group Inc.; Stephen Mansfield, president and CEO of Methodist Health System; and Martin Cox, chief operating officer of Chase Commercial Banking’s middle market business.
After a brief introduction by JLL’s Dallas regional president Paul Whitman (who commented on how easy it was to put together a panel of big-name execs when Roger Staubach is doing the ask), NBC journalist Scott Murray took over as moderator.
SCOTT MURRAY: In the lead up to the presidential election, there was a lot of talk about uncertainty. Now that the past is here, and we know who our president will continue to be, is uncertainty still a concern at this point, looking forward?
MARTIN COX: When you think about the issues before us now, the one staring us all in the face is the fiscal cliff, and the need to deal with that sooner rather than later. It’s a big weight hanging over business. That’s a big piece of it.
In the financial services industry, the other big big thing, of course, is Dodd Frank. It’s 400 rules, but only 133 are written, 144 have missed deadlines, and there are another 200+ to go. So the landscape is still being determined. The election certainly impacts that.
KAREN KATZ: Clearly, we believe there is still uncertainty in the world and in the U.S. economy. I think the thing we’re most focused on is the rollback of the tax cuts. We cater to the most affluent consumers in the United States, and if those taxes are rolled back, our customers are going to pay higher taxes. From the research we’ve done, most of our customers are … well, happy may not be the best word, but they’re happy to pay those taxes if they knew the funds would go toward reducing the deficit. But the fact of the matter is, it will cut into what they can spend at places like Neiman Marcus and other retailers. It’s playing on the emotions of our customers right now. What they buy at Neiman Marcus is all about the emotions—because we don’t really sell them anything that they need.
MURRAY: Well, Stephen, we certainly heard a lot about Obamacare during the campaign.
STEPHEN MANSFIELD: Yes, behind the economy, exit polls indicated that healthcare was the second-most significant determining factor in the election. There was a stark contrast, obviously, between Romney and Obama, the Republicans and the Democrats. We had Gov. Romney saying that his first day in office he was going to repeal and replace healthcare reform. And so it made it difficult to plan. But I think I’ve come to realize, after a number of years in my industry—and I think this is true across our economy, globally, today—uncertainty never totally clears up. Behind death, taxes, and T. Boone Pickens making money, it’s like the next most certain thing I can think of.
For us, it’s clearer that health insurance exchanges are going to happen in 2014. A lot of governors had been taking a wait-and-see position. And some, including our governor, have decided to not participate. So, in Texas, health exchanges will happen through the federal government. I’d rather see Texas generate a solution for Texans, than for Washington to generate a solution for Texans. But we’re at a point now where we know that, at least through 2017, Obamacare will be the law of the land, and we can adjust accordingly. It doesn’t take out all of the uncertainty. With the sequestration and tax cuts looming, there’s a very real possibility that some aspects of HCR may have to be sacrificed as part of the reconciliation effort.
MURRAY: It’s an issue that obviously affects everyone. When you go home at night and think about things, what’s the one big concern you have about your industry?
MANSFIELD: The greatest concern is one we probably all share on this panel. We obviously deliver healthcare, as Methodist Health System. But we also, for our own 7,000 employees, consume about $55 million a year’s worth. So, we’re also wrestling with health insurance decisions for ourselves and our employees.
My position, and it may not be shared by everyone in the industry, but I think America can do better with its healthcare system. We consume about 17 percent+ of the GDP. Yet by any leading healthcare organization metrics, we’re not able to say we have the best quality in the world. Part of that is due to the reimbursement system that we have, which rewards volume, which may or may not be tied to outcomes. I think the question is, can we, as a healthcare delivery system, come together and unify around the notion of providing a better product at a better price point for America, so we can be more competitive in a global market?
Saying it is easy. Getting that done—transitioning from a fee-for-service system to one that reimburses value—is something that’s unlike anything I can imagine in any industry. Yet I feel compelled that we need to do that, and that Methodist needs to play a role in that.
MURRAY: Rich, we’re talking about uncertainty. When you think about TI, what does that mean to you?
RICH TEMPLETON: When I hear the word, “uncertainty,” I think the opposite, and that’s certainty. We certainly have a weak economy, that’s true both as a U.S. statement and a global statement. I think we lack leadership to establish good pro-growth policies. As a company, we ship about 90 percent of our revenue outside the U.S., yet the majority of our payroll is here in North Texas or the U.S. And we have the highest corporate tax rate among all OECD countries. We hear about reform, we hear about a discussion to make reform real, but we have to get some real policies in place that promote growth.
BOONE PICKENS: I can’t believe this election we’ve gone through. Neither one of the candidates said anything about the United States having the cheapest energy in the world. We’re 20 percent cheaper on oil and 70 percent cheaper on natural gas and pay half the price of gasoline than you see in other countries around the world. I don’t know if they were afraid of the subject, or if they didn’t know. I hope it was that they were afraid of it.
It’s a great opportunity for the United States, to have the cheapest energy in the world. We will have industry moving back in here—we already have. Chemicals are coming back to us. This all went away 10, 15, 20 years ago.
The IEA just came out with a report that said the United States would be the largest oil producer in the world by the end of the decade, larger than Saudi Arabia and Russia. They’re producing about 10 million barrels a day; we’re producing about 6.5 million. I don’t agree with the IEA, and I can’t find any place where they’ve ever been right. They went to say that by 2035 the United States would be energy-independent. I don’t know how they got to that number.
So, will the Obama administration be better for the oil and gas industry than the Republicans? Well, Obama frequently says that the oil and gas industry makes too much. I don’t know exactly what too much is. I never could figure out what he meant when he said that I didn’t pay enough in taxes, that I don’t pay my fair share. Since I was 70, I’ve paid $665 million in taxes … I’m now 84. I don’t know exactly what fair share is.
But, overall, I think our industry looks better than it has in a long time, because we have plentiful resources.
MURRAY: What are some of the things that you think need to be changed, that would be a positive for us all?
BOONE: The one that’s coming up is this fiscal cliff Congress is facing. We’re coming up on that at 60 miles an hour, with fewer than 60 days to go, before something has got to be done. The missing link in Washington, I think, is leadership. You heard what Jon Stewart said the other night about the election: “We’ve spent $3 billion dollars, and what has changed? Not a f-ing thing.” I won’t use the actual word he said, but I liked it. Nothing has changed. Same president, same Senate, same Congress … a few Senate seats and a few House seats, but nothing happened after $3 billion was spent.
In terms of leadership, specifically, Washington has to do something about the fiscal problem that we’re faced with it or say, “Hell, just let it go off the cliff.” And we’re in a recession the first quarter of next year and we’ll figure it out as we go forward from there. Some lawmakers have said they’d just as soon do that. I’d rather not do that. At my age, I want things fixed faster, probably, than most everyone else.
I haven’t said anything to this point, because I’m trying to figure out, “What would I change, if I could change anything?” It would have to be in the energy sector. Everything in energy is doing just fine. I’m not asking the government to do anything, just show some direction. Get on your own resources—we have plenty of resources. Seventy percent of all the oil reserves today are in the hands of state-owned oil companies. Now I said this in the White House, talking to David Axlerod and Rahm Emmanuel several years ago, and I said, “Fellows, you understand there’s a game going on and we have no team. We do not have a state-owned oil company.” They said, “Exxon is our state-owned oil company.” I said, “No. Eight-one percent of Exxon’s revenues come from offshore; it’s an international oil company is what it is.” And we’re lucky to have them right here in our back yard. But we don’t have the same structure in the United States on energy as the rest of the world has.
MURRAY: How about you, Rich and Stephen, in your industries. What are some of the things that need to change, and change now?
TEMPLETON: It’s a pretty simple list, and it starts with education. We’re going to win and prosper as a society and as a country by having well-educated kids. You look at STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) through K-12 system, we’re behind and we’ve got to get ahead. So that’s No. 1. Second is investment into university research and development. Where did all these great companies come from these past 30 and 40 years? It’s because we had investments going into great universities and as a result, companies would get formed around that and the economy grows.
Next behind that is that these great universities attract the best minds around the world, master’s students and Ph.D. students. But with today’s immigration policies, we then send them home, which is the equivalent of taking your best athletes and sending them off to some other team. Then you end up competing against them, instead of keeping them here in the U.S. to play on your team. And then lastly I’ll mention tax reform. We ought to view these global markets as opportunities, not threats. We grow because we have in China, in India. Let’s encourage companies to be leaders globally while still growing jobs in the U.S.
MANSFIELD: The fundamental challenge in the healthcare industry is to shift the chassis that we’ve built our system on in the last 100 years. If you go back in time in America, a century ago, the bane of mankind was related primarily to a lack of potable water and to infectious diseases. They both resulted in acute illness. So if you went to the hospital you either died or were healed, and were soon back as an active, productive member of society.
If you fast forward 100 years, longevity as a society is much greater, and now we have shifted to a situation where 70 percent of the $2.8 trillion we spend on healthcare is spend on individuals who have one of five chronic diseases. Chronic illness is much more different than acute illness and must be treated completely differently.
I would argue that there’s nowhere else in the world that you would rather be if you have an automobile accident than in America. And that’s because we have trauma centers and all the equipment associated with trauma centers—the best medicine that money can buy for acute car. Our challenge though is that our society and costs have shifted to chronic care, and we have to shift with it. The changes that Methodist has to embrace and other parts of our health system under Obamacare is we have to shift to keeping a population healthy and well and receive our compensation for that, as opposed to treating that same population when they’re ill. It’s a fundamental mind shift, and it’s a fundamental asset shift, but it’s a critical imperative for our organizations going forward.
We’re working in partnership with our 1,500 physicians on our medical staff to take risk-based contracts on a population of individuals, giving us an opportunity to generate our income by keeping patients healthy and out of the hospital, rather that treating them in the hospital. It’s a fundamental shift.
MURRAY: Karen and Martin, how about you?
KATZ: It’s hard to compete when you’re talking about chronic illnesses. I just want to sell a few handbags. We obviously have very different kinds of issues. As we look forward, one thing that’s top of mind is tax reform for corporate taxes We’re a middle range company, doing a little less than $5 billion. We want to invest back in our businesses. We want to take capital and grow our business, employ more people. And part of the way we believe we can do that is if, as a corporation, we pay lower taxes. We’ll see, as Rich said, whether Washington can think its way through that, if that’s where some of that money can go, back into the economy.
We’re also very focused on consumer spending. Most people know that consumer spending is about 65-70 percent of the gross national product. If you get consumers to think positively about what’s going on, they’re going to go out and spend money, and that’s going to help the economy. We’re focused on getting Washington to make decisions that help people feel good about things. If there’s low confidence in Washington, the consumers don’t have confidence in terms of how they think about jobs and where their next paycheck is going to come from. It seems so simple, but that’s what makes part of the economy tick—when people feel that they want to get out and they want to shop. So that’s the focus for us as a retailer these days.
COX: It’s easy to look at this landscape, particularly for those of us in banking, and just see nothing but an oppressive wall coming at you in terms of regulation. A lot of this is in response to the crisis we went through a few years ago, and, frankly, a lot of it is appropriate. The best thing that has happened is the new, much higher level of capital that banks have to maintain now. In the long term, it’s going to play to our advantage.
The question it creates for everybody is, with these much higher levels of capital, are the businesses you’re in today, ultimately, are they going to be the profitable businesses you want to stay in? It does cause you to look at your portfolio businesses going forward, and you’ve got to think through those things. But the fundamentals of our businesses, even though it’s higher capital and sort of tougher regulations to comply with, are still the same. We’re just tied to the health of our economy and our clients, both corporate and individual. As the economy prospers, as companies do well, then we do well as an industry, too.
MURRAY: Boone, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to share with us before you have to depart? (Pickens need to cut his panel participation short due to a black-tie event at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.)
PICKENS: I couldn’t hear your question. Let me tell you what Southwest Medical told me the other day. I took my annual physical and the doctor called me and said, “I’ve got some good news for you and some bad news.” I said, “Give me the good news first.” He said, “You’re going to live until you’re 114. The bad news is, you won’t be able to hear or see.” I said, “I’m coming up on both of those.”
OK. Back to your question. I can make Ross Perot wait.
MURRAY: I think Roger has one for you before you leave.
ROGER STAUBACH: How about the BCS? Where are we going with college football?
MURRAY: Forget about the economy and the election. Roger wants to talk about football.
BOONE: Well, I talked to (a TCU fan) a while ago, and I said, “Listen, I helped get you guys into the Big 12,” and I did. And I’d like to get SMU into the Big 12, too. But, anyway, it’s unbelievable. A&M just had a big win. Some of you know that I went to Texas A&M my first year, in 1947. Roger couldn’t believe it; the first time we met and we talked, he said, “You played basketball, at 5-ft. 9-in.? I said, “Listen, in 1947, you didn’t have to be that tall, and you didn’t have to be that quick.” But A&M took me in and gave me a basketball scholarship. After a year, they didn’t renew the scholarship. It could have been one of the three worst mistakes they ever made. $25 a month and the Aggies passed on me, and I went to Oklahoma State. (Pickens has donated about $500 million to his alma mater, OSU.)
MURRAY: Well, thanks again, Boone. We truly appreciate you. Moving along with the discussion, is there anything about the election results that has put any constraints on your business going forward? You want to start, Rich?
TEMPLETON: I’ve mentioned it, but I think it’s worth reinforcing. You have to remind everybody that even though we have 20 percent of the global GDP as a country we have 5 percent of the world’s population. If we want to grow our businesses, we have to view the world as an opportunity, not a threat. That’s a big shift. If you listen to a lot of the rhetoric, there’s the whole treatment of China and other countries as they’re the enemy, as opposed to great opportunities where American companies can grow. And we need to have policies in place to be able to promote that and do that. Look at the TI statistics—90 percent of our revenue comes from outside the U.S., but the majority of our payroll is here in the U.S., including manufacturing. I think we need more industries like that, not fewer. I think that’s still to be proven, how it will be handled in Washington.
MURRAY: Are there (government) budget cutbacks that will specifically affect your type of industry?
TEMPLETON: No. The biggest thing that we encourage is for the federal government to be smart about how it invests. We encourage things like investing in research and development into universities, not companies. Those are great assets. That’s why we have the Googles of this world that have started up in the U.S. and not elsewhere. That’s the important thing, as they’re going through the very difficult task of budget-setting, is to make sure those right-leading investments are being made in science and technology.
MANSFIELD: The healthcare industry is different in many, many respects. Economists struggle with the notion of why doesn’t more supply reduce prices in healthcare? Well, there are four or five answers to that. The thing that’s most unique about our industry … I use the analogy of someone who sells automobiles. Say you had a Cadillac dealership, and you sold four Cadillacs a deal. If you operated like the healthcare industry, then you would give your fourth one away for free. And you would be mandated to do so.
So what does that do to your business model? Well, there are two answers. You either cease to exist, or the price of your first three automobiles will have to be much higher. That’s the phenomenon that’s occurring within healthcare. To answer the question of what concerns me most, for this experiment—and Obamacare has to be characterized as an experiment—for this experiment to work, in my view, we can’t have 60 million Americans without access to healthcare, except in the most expensive venue possible, and that’s in the emergency rooms of our delivery systems throughout the country. That’s the case today.
So I’m a huge advocate of trying to reduce the number Texans who have no health insurance—it’s about 6.5 million people today, about 25 percent of our population. We have an opportunity over the next four years to enroll more qualifying people in the Medicaid program. And that gives us an opportunity to treat them differently, on the front end, before it becomes a train wreck, a burden to them and a burden to our society.
The thing that concerns me most, frankly, is our governor having taken the position that he will not expand the Medicaid rolls through this period of time. He’s not alone in that. But I’m hopeful that maybe it will be revisited. It will have a tremendous impact on taxpayers, both individuals and businesses in Texas. Because if somebody will help pay for even part of that fourth automobile, I won’t have to charge as much for the other three.
MURRAY: Karen, you’re getting ready for your biggest time of year at Neiman Marcus. As you move forward now, as you prepare for the holiday season, is anything any different, in terms of the way you approach it, as a high-dollar store? What constraints may be put on you, with the economic environment we have right now?
KATZ: The retailing business in general, as I said earlier, is very much an emotional business. People have to feel good before they want to go out and go shopping and spend money. The election, for some, has sent them into a state of exhilaration. For others, they walked away quite nervous about what’s in front of them. It’s hard to calibrate where customers’ minds are. We’re hearing that our customers, generally speaking, are a little bit nervous about where things are going, for the reasons we’ve all mentioned.
We’re a high-risk business in the sense that every season, we go out and buy brand new product that we buy nine months in advance of the consumer coming into the store. We have to take bets on the fashion business and whether those fashions are going to sell. If the consumer is feeling good, we have a higher likelihood that we can sell that product before it gets reduced in price and we don’t make money on it. So we’re in this very precarious position as we head into the holiday season. If people are feeling good about things, we know they will come out and shop. If they’re not, then they’re going to find a lot of excuses for not coming out to the stores. And that’s really the essence of what we do. It’s really very simple.
This last week, between Hurricane Sandy coming through and hurting the retail business in the northeast and New York City, coupled with some of the effects of the election, we’re watching things very carefully on a day-to-day basis.
MURRAY: Let’s shift to regulatory issues. Certainly the banking industry has been hit with many changes. As a result of that, Martin, how have you adapted to that change? How do you deal with that?
COX: Well, we try to do it with a smile. There are many elements to think about, going back to the Patriot Act, several years ago. The federal government asked the banking industry to step in and protect the sanctity of the money transfer system. The requirements upon us to really know our customers in greater detail, ask for driver’s licenses, dig behind the ownership of companies down to the 5 percent or 10 percent level—it’s a whole level of due diligence that did not used to be required. But terrorists and criminals … the ability of people to hijack our system and launder money, is very high. So the banks have to operate at a much higher level. We try to look at it as a positive. We are safeguarding a system the country really relies on.
The other thing related to regulatory requirements is we think we will be able to run our business just fine, once they’re determined. The hardest thing is this period of time when things aren’t really set in stone. You don’t really know how to aim your business. Once they’re set, I think our industry can handle it and compete. But this period of uncertainty, where you don’t know where things are going to end up, is hard to deal with.
MURRAY: And that leads me into the last question, relating to the issue of uncertainty. You are all in major leadership positions. What do you tell your troops, as you go into battle? What’s the message you share with employees?
TEMPLETON: The thing you have to remind people of, and we do it every day, is that our competition is facing all these same issues. The field is even, the weather is the same, the officials are the same, now go play. That’s not an excuse to not win, it’s not an excuse to not gain inside the market in which you operate. We don’t control the marketplace, but we do control our performance within the marketplace.
MANSFIELD: The tendency is to look at what we wish was better and to work to make it better, and that’s a good thing. But I think in times of uncertainty, for the CEO of an organization, it’s a paramount time to communicate a positive message. I’m not talking about spin; I’m talking about changing your framework and seeing what’s positive, because there’s plenty.
I know half the country is distraught over the election—maybe more than half, as fewer than half vote. But this is America. And we have a tremendous opportunity in what we do with it. It’s not up to Washington, in my view, to determine what we do with it. I think sentiment is such a powerful force. You see it every Saturday when you watch college football and see momentum shift back and forth.
There’s so much positive to be said. I tell our staff all the time, “You are in the miracle business. People live today who would not have lived a decade ago because of what you do and what you use.” If you can’t get pumped up about that, then something’s wrong with your pump. America needs it. I need to hear it, frankly, from President Obama—a positive, constructive vision of America.
It’s amazing what you can do if you think you can. And it’s amazing what you can’t do if you defeat yourself mentally before you ever start. I think that’s the need in our economy, in our CEO offices, to encourage and inspire the folks involved in our work, to make a difference, and to not feel oppressed by the uncertainty and the challenge.
KATZ: We had a meeting with our team today, and I guess the one thing that comes to mind, and Stanley Marcus used to say this, is that we have to treat each customer as if it’s going to be the last customer we serve, and make sure she has a memorable experience. If she does, she’ll come back, and she’ll tell her friends, and that’s ultimately what’s most important for us.
COX: Thinking about what Rich said, that’s what we have to tell ourselves, too—the regulatory environment is something everyone in the industry has to deal with. For us, it’s an easy message, because people in the banking business are there because they really like working with clients, and helping people solving financial problems, that’s what turns them on. So we just focus on the customers, that’s the fun part of the job, and there’s a lot to be done out there that relate to client needs. If you can just stay focused on that in our business, things go better.
MURRAY: OK. Let’s take a few questions from the audience.
EVAN STONE, JLL: Can one or all of you talk about your thoughts about the deficit, and what the president needs to do to reduce it?
MANSFIELD: The math of sequestration doesn’t strike me as overly daunting. But when you compound that with the impact of letting the Bush tax cuts expire, then (the Office of Management and Budget) and others are projecting that the consequences of that for our economy are very dire. In my view, relative to the deficit, I never would have thought in my lifetime, even a decade ago, that America would undergo a reduction in its credit-worthiness, and be faced with another. But I think we’ve punted this down the road so far and I think both Republicans and Democrats bear responsibility, and I think we’ve got to come together. I don’t see how you get anywhere close to a deficit reduction package without including both entitlement reforms and revenue increases through taxation. I think it’s going to take both, and it’s going to take hard work. I wish I were more optimistic that our congress could get that done.
COX: I think everybody understands that it’s going to be painful, and that some hard decisions are going to have to be made. I’ve heard it said several times, in the United States, we know the way, we just don’t have the will. I don’t know how we get there, but the path is not that complicated. We just don’t seem to be able to come together to figure out which way to go.
KAREN GREN SCHOLER, JONES DAY: The last few days I’ve heard nothing but reports on companies laying off people, making full-time employees part-time employees, and asking them to contribute substantial amounts to their healthcare plans that they ever have before. What do you see in your industries with regard to those areas?
COX: In our industry, we’re often in a cycle of leaving one thing and investing in another. I’ll give you an example: Here in North Texas, we hired 5,000 people to do default work in the mortgage business over a four-year period. That, thankfully, is starting to decline. So 500 of those people have been converted to the origination business, and we hope to make more of that happen. There is always some part of the company that is being de-emphasized, but at the same time we’re trying to invest in areas that offer exciting opportunity. I think the underlying answer to your question, though, is just what Rich said earlier: The economy is just not as strong as it could be.
BILL MURRAY, MEDSYNERGIES: Can I just point out that the $3 billion that was wasted on the elections would have paid the deficit for one day. That’s the problem. People don’t understand the math. How do we get people to understand the math, or do we have to go off the cliff?
TEMPLETON: You know, as an engineer I find logic amazing. At TI, we couldn’t go a quarter without having our P&L turned in and in compliance, we couldn’t go a year without having a budget set. I doubt anybody in this room could go without having a budget. But, as a country, we’ve not had a budget for four years. I don’t understand the logic—just lock everybody up in that room until it’s done. I struggle with that on a basic level. I know I’m probably highly ignorant of the process and how politics work. In the end, we have to get things simpler. It’s about doing the jobs that people have been elected to do.
MURRAY: Thanks, everyone. Roger, would you like to come up and make some closing remarks?
STAUBACH: I want to thank Paul and the whole team who put this panel discussion together, along with Scott and Martin, Karen, Steve, Rich, and Boone. Thanks for sharing your time.
You know I’ve had a chance to travel around the country. Texas is doing well, but it’s kind of inconsistent around the country. Thinking about the deficit, for the last four years, I just read an article in The Wall Street Journal that said the deficit has grown by a $1 trillion a year for the last four years—it’s unprecedented. Even George (W. Bush) had some deficit issues, too, spending issues. So how do you deal with that?
Obviously, even if all of the rich people gave all the money, it wouldn’t come close to solving the problem. So it’s a combination of raising revenue and closing loopholes and dealing with entitlements that no one likes to talk about … social security, Medicare and Medicaid. So we have some challenges. But this is a great country, and I think we’re going to figure things out.
I hope that Republicans, now that they know who their president is, aren’t going to try to make the president look bad. All of our personal agendas are important, but you have to be thinking of the bigger agenda, and what’s right—whether that be in your family, in your company, or in your country. Looking at the big agenda, we’re going to hopefully see that leadership come forward.