Leo Hindery

Posted by Bill Thompson on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 7:49 AM PDT

Leo Hindery, Managing Partner of InterMedia Partners and former CEO of AT&T Broadband and The YES Network, visited campus on May 28th. Leo graduated from the Albers School as an economics major in 1969, so it was great to welcome him back to campus. He spent the day speaking to classes and finished off as the final speaker in the 2012-13 Albers Executive Speaker Series.

Throughout the day, Leo emphasized several themes that are import to him. First, he is concerned about the decline of manufacturing employment in the. US. He feels it is essential in order to supply decent jobs and income to a significant share of the population. He laments that the US does not have a manufacturing policy and tolerates what he sees as unfair competition from China. He notes that our manufacturing trade deficit largely stems from China, yet we let China manipulate its currency and heavily subsidize its industrial sector.

A second concern is the large federal deficit, which he ties to excesses in defense spending, social security, and Medicare. He noted how the deficits force us to borrow overseas from nations such as China, but was unsure of whether that gave China leverage on the US or the US on China. Either way, it is the case that if a nation is borrowing from abroad a nation must run a trade deficit -- the two go hand in hand, which is not a well understood phenomenon.

A third concern is the growing inequality in income and wealth in the US. He focused on the outsized compensation of CEOs, who on average earn more than 350 times what the average employee in the firm makes. It was not so long ago when that was 75 to 1. He traced this to the rise of the belief that maximizing shareholder value is the one and only duty of a firm, as well as the rise of "trickle down" economics.

This has all been solidified with corporate campaign contributions that distort the electoral process and are changing the effectiveness of government. He estimates that in the 2012 campaign cycle $8.5 billion was spent by industry to influence the election.

He believes that growing inequality and loss of voice in public policy are a civil rights issue. He feels that the SEC, FCC, public pension plans, and civil rights groups all have it within their power to challenge these trends and push back the rising tide of inequality.

Later in his career, Leo has become identified with the Democratic Party and like minded causes, so it was not a surprise that this CEO did not sound like the typical CEO. Earlier in the day, in answer to a question, he offered that one of his regrets is that he did not take up these issues earlier in his career -- that he was too focused on his business career. That may be, but if he had not been working so hard and established the track record of success he has, he would not have the same credibility and moral authority he has today to speak to these important issues.

It was great to have Leo Hindery on campus and a great opportunity for our students to hear from arguably one of Seattle University's most influential alums. Leo recently had back surgery and we may have asked him to do too much in one day, but he was a real trooper and rose to the occasion. That shows his commitment to SU is strong!