Published November 01, 2011
Real courage in corporate America isn't always easy to find. Too often folks on the corporate ladder find it easier and safer to go along to get along. But occasionally you'll find the brave soul willing to stand up against the status quo, no matter what the consequence.
Such was the case with William Niskanen, who died last week at 78. Bill was the top economist at Ford Motor Co. (F) in 1975, when Ford was in serious trouble because of competition with Japan. The company began to call for all kinds of special favors from the government, including protectionism and even hinting around for a bailout.
Bill hated that. He believed that special favors for private companies made companies lazy and would eventually cripple our free-market economy. Here's part of what he said in a note he sent to his bosses at the time:
"A common commitment to refrain from special favors serves the same economic function as a common commitment to refrain from stealing."
For that brilliant defense of the free market, Bill Niskanen was fired. But he left Ford with his head held high. And he eventually joined Ronald Reagan's council of economic advisors. There, too, he got in trouble by speaking his mind...once calling Reagan's chief of staff a "tower of jelly."
He wasn't always diplomatic, but Bill always had the guts to speak out. And men and women with guts are getting harder to find in corporate America...and in politics. We'll miss him.