How manager Gingrich gets it done (Fortune, 1995)January 22, 2012: 9:30 AM ET
FORTUNE -- If what really wows CEOs about Newt is his ability to get things done, a question naturally arises: How does he do it? By now, most people know Gingrich is a keen reader of books by the like of quality guru W. Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker (whose The Effective Executive is one of Newt's favorites), and a student of the tactics of leaders like the Duke of Wellington and General George C. Marshall.
What's still underappreciated, though, is the extent to which management theory informs almost every act of this bare-knuckle political brawler. Consider the now famous Contract With America. Newt explains its genesis this way: " Prior to the election, our biggest fear wasn't losing, but winning and not having anything to do. So we created the Contract to imprint on members everything they had to do for the first 100 days. After the election, you never discussed it. You just executed. The Contract was designed as a management-training document that was politically useful, not simply as a political document. Nobody has ever figured that out."
Once the new Congress was in session, Gingrich moved quickly to reinvent the way the House works and shift power from the individual committees, which had been run like feudal fiefdoms, to the Speakership. "I believe in very rapid consolidation," he says. One of his first moves was an unprecedented order requiring all committee chiefs of staff to report to the Speaker's chief of staff. At the same time Gingrich went over the heads of senior Republicans and handpicked committee chairmen for their aggressiveness and loyalty.
Gingrich also set up a leadership structure filled with like-minded and battle-tested conservatives whose responsibilities are clearly defined, and with whom he typically meets in two-hour sessions twice a week. Gingrich sees himself as the CEO. "I do vision and strategy," he says. "When people ask me what's happening on the floor, I say: 'I don't know. That's Armey's job.' " Majority Leader Dick Armey, a cowboy-booted economist from Texas, is Newt's COO, the man responsible for the day-to-day operations of the floor. Another Texan, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, acts as production manager--or as he puts it, "the shoe leather guy" who builds votes. Other top lieutenants tend to things like market research and building coalitions.
This division of labor allows Gingrich to concentrate on the big picture. Thus while the House was doing the Contract, he was focusing on budget strategy. When the House turned to budget matters, Newt was already on to Medicare reform. By the time the House is moving ahead on Medicare, he plans to be deep into his next long-range project: "Systems reform. How do we train the next generation of Congressmen? What is the Information Age process of self-government?"
Colleagues praise Gingrich as a leader who listens, especially to the freshmen whom he considers the heartbeat of his revolution. He's also happy to delegate. It's a running joke in the GOP cloakroom that you don't complain to him unless you want an assignment. But in a crunch, he's not at all shy about throwing his considerable weight around. When Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley, who has close ties to AT&T (T), produced a telecommunications bill in May that would have kept the Baby Bells out of the long-distance business for at least five more years, Gingrich--who instinctively favored a more deregulatory approach, and also figured the Baby Bells packed more collective grassroots clout than AT&T, MCI, and Sprint (S)--insisted that the legislation be revised. His solution held.
Finally, like any good salesman, Gingrich knows packaging pays. Example: As part of the critical campaign to control Medicare spending--an effort Gingrich is personally spearheading--extensive GOP polling has found that seniors don't like the idea of "improving" Medicare. That's because they like the system just fine the way it is. So Republicans who've been trained in Newtspeak talk instead about "saving, preserving, protecting, and strengthening" Medicare. Still, Manager Gingrich insists he doesn't pander: "I don't follow public opinion polls. I use them. There's a huge difference. I know where we have to go. I just want to know what works in explaining it."