President and CEO, Business Roundtable
Leader of business leaders
Industry: Business policy
Key previous position: White House chief of staff
Notable fact: Plays bass guitar in a band
Joshua Bolten says he realized he was a “policy nerd” early on in life.
That passion led him to the top of Washington’s pecking order, serving as George W. Bush’s chief of staff, among other positions in government.
Now, Bolten represents some 200 CEOs of the country’s largest companies—comprising about 20 million employees—as CEO of the Business Roundtable, serving as an influential voice on economic issues ranging from trade to taxes to regulation.
One of Bolten’s top issues for the past few years has been trade policy—advocating a resolution to the trade war with China and the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement through Congress.
“The biggest risk is that the current confrontation between the U.S. and China spirals out of control in a way that risks the adoption, at least in the U.S. and maybe in China, of a policy attempting to decouple our two economies,” he said.
Bolten and the Roundtable have also helped spearhead a consortium of other business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Farm Bureau Federation to press Congress to advance the USMCA.
The Roundtable earned headlines in August when the group changed its corporate principles to include the concerns not only of shareholders, but also customers, employees, suppliers, and communities. Bolten says it’s a statement of his member CEOs’ aspirations.
“We’ve generated actually more reaction than we’ve expected, both pro and con, and we think that’s good because we clearly touched a nerve with the statement, and we believe it’s an important conversation at this time in our country’s political life,” he said.
Bolten spoke to National Journal as he was traveling to the University of Virginia to participate in the release of the first interviews for an oral history of the Bush administration. He sat down with scholars four separate times for the project. And he says his experience in government influences the way he deals with the current White House and Congress.
For one thing, Bolten says he has a measure of sympathy for those enduring the grueling schedule and pressure of government. “It’s trying to do what’s best for the country in circumstances of, first, factual ambiguity, and second, political ambiguity,” he said.