This week, President Obama announced that he's nominating Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (pictured) as U.S. Ambassador to China, which will leave an open slot at the Commerce Department.
There are three names being bandied about as short-list contenders for Commerce job: Google (GOOG) Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is one of them, reports BusinessWeek. But the best candidate would likely be Ron Kirk, because as U.S. trade negotiator, he is most familiar with the state of our national export negotiations. And as Obama seeks help to double U.S. exports to $3.1 trillion in the next five years, Kirk is best positioned to hit the ground running.
Here's my assessment of the candidates:
- Ron Kirk has two big things going for him: he already is very familiar with the U.S. trade agenda and could help achieve our goals in international trade negotiations in Geneva, the Doha rounds and the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. He has already been confirmed as U.S. trade negotiator, so he could get to work quickly.
- Eric Schmidt is respected as a successful executive based on his leadership at Google and Sun Microsystems. However, he would be new to Washington and his confirmation could get held up by those who objected to Google's policies in China.
- Jeffrey Kindler, the former CEO of Pfizer (PFE), is well-regarded, at least by a friend of mine who attended Tufts University with him and now runs a firm that tries to improve corporate governance in Russia. However, Kindler left Pfizer in December without achieving his two main goals: making up for the loss of revenues from the patent expiration of Lipitor and boosting Pfizer stock 50%. Those failures don't rule him out, but they could push him further down the list.
At this point, I should disclose that I have a small personal connection to this story: This year, I have a new book coming out about how small and medium-sized businesses can enter global markets, titled Export Now: Five Keys to Entering New Markets. I co-authored it with former Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Frank Lavin, and Secretary Locke wrote the forward.
The administration's goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years is an ambitious goal, no matter who next fills the role of commerce secretary. Based on the latest numbers, U.S. exports rose 16.6% to $1.83 trillion in 2010. At that level we'd need to boost exports another 70% to reach $3.1 trillion by 2014.
Frank Lavin and I analyzed dozens of case studies looking for the key factors that would allow American companies to pull that off. Based on our 30 years of experience advising exporters, we complied 10 lessons to help them boost their chances for export success, lessons I summarized in a January DailyFinance article.
The Commerce Department can work with small and medium-sized businesses to help them achieve these growth objectives and it already does so through its commercial service offices in about 100 U.S. cities and 80 countries. Those trade negotiations with other countries can lead to bigger individual deals. When coupled with export growth by small and medium-sized businesses, Obama's goal of doubling exports is within reach. But much will rely on the leadership from the next commerce secretary -- whomever that may be.