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Jim Clifton

Quality Insider

Political Leaders: Treat Your Citizens Like Customers—or Go Broke

Appreciate them and learn their concerns, preferences, and priorities

Published: Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 12:28

The four following anecdotes carry a similar message. They should seriously alarm city, state, and country leaders everywhere.

A CEO of a multibillion-dollar California company, and lifelong resident of the Golden State, told me at a dinner that he was moving his business from California to the Rocky Mountains. He wanted to be a “customer” of the state of Colorado, not the state of California anymore. His needs as a customer overrode his love of the Southern California lifestyle.

I just read this week that between 2010 and 2011, England’s total number of taxpayers with an annual income of more than 1 million pounds went from 16,000 to 6,000—that’s right—in one year. The British press is going nuts because a certain percentage of those 10,000 taxpayers flat out left the country. Apparently their own personal finances, and possibly small-business ownership, are more precious to them than their national loyalty or patriotism.

A young American CEO in Washington informed me that he just moved the headquarters and business operations of his building supply company to St. Thomas. He said he could no longer survive the taxes and regulations as a “customer” of the United States, so his business became a customer of St. Thomas.

Another friend told me last week that he was keeping his home in Washington, but bought a new primary residence in Florida because it favored his tax and business interests to migrate there.

There’s an obvious pattern here. Many individuals and businesses of all sizes—especially those in technology—can be headquartered anywhere. Wealthy people can pretty much live wherever they want. These businesses and individuals will migrate to cities, states, and countries where they can be most productive and enjoy tax rates and regulations that help them become highly profitable with few limits to growth.

Gallup’s World Poll asks this question across 160 countries: “Ideally, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move permanently to another country, or would you prefer to continue living in this country?” A less scientific way of wording this would be, “Do you want to get the hell out of Dodge?” A couple striking results: 28 percent of adults in the United Kingdom told Gallup they would like to leave the country permanently. This compares with 11 percent of Americans who say they would like to leave the United States permanently if they could.

I raise this issue now, because as the U.S. president and Congress work on a wide variety of new rules and regulations for this country, they should consider the people who live and work in America as customers rather than simply taking them for granted as trapped citizens. U.S. small businesses in particular are increasingly pessimistic about their future in the United States. Basically, they’re not satisfied customers. Many American businesses can move out of the United States just as surely as they can move out of California or Detroit.

Note to mayors, governors, prime ministers, and presidents worldwide: You could learn a thing or two from some once-great U.S. companies, like the big automakers, who went broke and needed a federal bailout to survive because they took their customers for granted. It’s time to start treating your citizens like customers. Find out what they want and start engaging them, not to mention appreciating them, rather than acting like they have nowhere to go. They have plenty of places to go—and you’ll go broke without them.


About The Author

Jim Clifton’s picture

Jim Clifton

Since 1988, Jim Clifton has served as CEO of Gallup, an organizational consulting and public opinion research firm. He created the Gallup World Poll, designed to give the world’s 6 billion citizens a voice in virtually all key global issues. He also created a model that establishes the linkages among human nature in the workplace, customer engagement, and business outcomes. Clifton has pledged to continue this effort to collect world opinion for 100 years in 150 countries. He has authored many articles and the book, The Coming Jobs War (Gallup Press, 2011).


Politics Quality

Dear Jim, I was born in northern Italy, but I'm saying of myself that I was born on the wrong side of the Alps; meaning that I would have preferred to be a north-european citizen. Nowadays, this statement doesn't hold valid anymore: if I could flee the EU, I would. My partner is Croatian, but Croatia will join the EU in 2013 ... so? It's the newest form of epidemic: a politically-correct disease. Thank you.


My wife and I as small business owners in Western Georgia are more than frustrated that we are not being heard by those who matter the most: the voters. Other business owners hear and understand the sacrifices and plight of small business owners in the U.S. First of all, being a millionaire does not mean you have $1M dollars/month cash flow to spend as you wish. Second of all, $250k/year income does not equate to $250k/year disposable income. When did it become disdainful in the U.S. to succeed in the U.S.? If our voting employees start treating us, their employers, like greedy evil rich capitalists with no thought for the needs of others maybe we will get tired of it all and start living up to the name they have given us! For starters, suppose we stop giving Christmas bonuses, vacation time, holidays, charitable donations, parties, and a heated and air conditioned shop to work in? Then I could affort to give up my day job and start collecting a paycheck for the first time in 10 years of operation.

If you voted for the guy who believes small businesses are nothing more than ATM machines for the government, and that we are not paying our fair share, trade places with me for the next 10 years or so. And by the way, you might have to give up ball games, fishing, TV, and time with your friends to make sure the lights are turned on at the shop long before sun-up, and turned off long after sunset.

Mark & Marie J.


Thank you for your comments.  When did we decide that creating jobs and being a risk-taker is evil?  I take my hat off to the small businessmen.