Traditionally there has been a pattern to the projects that ex-presidents of the United States undertake after their stint in the oval office has run its course. They pursue philanthropic, educational or ambassadorial duties in the forms of libraries, charities and diplomatic missions. That is of course in addition to establishing legacies and publishing books patting themselves on the back. But Barack Obama has not been a traditional politician and president, and his post-White House endeavors may continue that trend.
The 44th president sat down with Bloomberg Businessweek and addressed numerous questions about the economy, globalization, fair wages, and of course Trump. During that interview, he also expressed an interest in pursuing a venture capitalist career and helping develop new business and innovation.
BB: Do you have any desire to run a company yourself?
BO: Well, I’ve said this before and, I think, surprised a lot of people, but if I think about what would stir my passions had I not gone into politics, it’d probably be starting some kind of business. The skill set of starting my presidential campaigns—and building the kinds of teams that we did and marketing ideas—I think would be the same kinds of skills that I would enjoy exercising in the private sector.
Now, I’m always careful about drawing too many easy parallels there, because sometimes there are CEOs who come in and start explaining to me how I should be running the presidency. And I sometimes have to stop them and say, “All right. One, I appreciate your advice. But imagine a situation in which half your board and management were actively trying to get rid of you and prevent you from accomplishing anything. And you had 2 million employees, and you couldn’t fire a large portion of them. And your competitors weren’t simply promoting their own products, but were continually saying how your products were the worst that were ever invented and will cause a civilizational crisis. If you pull that all together, then you’ve got about half of what I’m dealing with on a daily basis.
BB: What industries would you think about going into?
BO: Well, you know, it’s hard to say. But what I will say is that—just to bring things full circle about innovation—the conversations I have with Silicon Valley and with venture capital pull together my interests in science and organization in a way I find really satisfying. You know, you think about something like precision medicine: the work we’ve done to try to build off of breakthroughs in the human genome; the fact that now you can have your personal genome mapped for a thousand bucks instead of $100,000; and the potential for us to identify what your tendencies are, and to sculpt medicines that are uniquely effective for you. That’s just an example of something I can sit and listen and talk to folks for hours about.
We’re going to have a global entrepreneurship summit—the last one of a series that we began when I first came into office. And the enthusiasm from around the world about these summits speaks to the advantage that we continue to have here in the United States. It’s this notion that if you get a good idea, and you organize some people to support you, and you learn from your mistakes, you can create something entirely new.
BB: You can become Bill Gates.
BO: You can become Bill Gates. Or, in some cases, you can electrify a village. You can save water in a desert. That’s the thing about the U.S. economy that continues to be unique. And it’s tied to capitalism and markets, but it’s also tied to a faith in science and reason and a mindset that says there’s always something new to discover, and we don’t know everything, and we’re going to try new things, and we’re pragmatic. And if we ever lose that, then we will have lost what has made us an incredible force for good in the world. If we sustain it, then we can maintain the kind of progress that has been made. I always tell interns and young people who I talk to that as tough as things seem right now, do not believe people when they tell you they wish they could go back to the good old days. Because the good old days aren’t—I’m now old enough where I remember some of those good old days.
Obama is no stranger to VCs, Silicon Valley and the business leaders paving the way in tech and science. He has appeared at the South by Southwest festival, and has taken to outlets like Reddit and Google Hangouts to address the world. Leaning more towards scientific fields, Obama is apparently most interested in genetic research. That is a bit surprising to hear considering how controversial that field continues to be, but again, most of what Obama has accomplished has been unexampled.