CEOs Who Study Military History / Strategy

In an interview in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Fox News President Roger Ailes makes several references to military strategy and battles as he talks about how he plans to knock off CNBC with his new business channel. Military history seems to be a favorite topic of CEOs. To the extent that business resembles a kind of civilized warfare, it’s not surprising that a leader would study famous battles and generals.

Here’s Ailes on how he’ll overcome CNBC’s many resource advantages:

Well, if you study history, the victories did not always go to the people with the great resources. [Confederate Gen.] Stonewall Jackson seemed to be undermanned in every campaign and won. [Union Gen. George] McClellan had plenty of resources in every fight and lost. That isn’t always what matters. It’s, well, I’m not gonna tell them what it is.

On his relationship with Jeff Zucker of CNBC and competing against people you know:

In the Civil War a lot of those young men came out of West Point in the class of ’46 and went to Mexico and fought together [in the Mexican-American War]. Gen. [Ulysses S.] Grant and Gen. [Robert E.] Lee fought on the same side. Gen. [James] Longstreet, who was Lee’s No. 2, was best man at Grant’s wedding. They all knew each other from class. They knew who could ride a horse, who could draw a battlefield, who could command troops in the field. They knew how things worked. Everybody in television knows each other, and, on any given day, some people play better than others, some people get lucky, whatever. What that does is it makes the margin of success a very narrow field.

We’re going into a 90-million-home competitor with a 17-year head start who has spent the last two years making decisions to get ready for us. You know, the Germans had the high ground at Normandy [on D-Day], and you know what, Our guys did all right. I just figure, you know, the fight will begin. I feel confident our folks are ready for it.

Military imagery and references exist in politics, too. As political scientist Jack Pitney shows in his book Art of Political Warfare, politicians from Newt Gingrich to Bill Clinton studied military tactics and regularly used war metaphors when organizing their efforts.

Add military history to the list of areas I need to study!

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