The pictures of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump participating in executive and ceremonial meetings with foreign leaders draw the ire of many. These images raise central questions about the legitimacy and utility of nepotism in the White House.
Most commentators regard the governmental presence of Kushner-Trump as, at the minimum, overstepping the proper roles of relatives supporting their family leader. More critically, their presence is a poor and inappropriate substitute for professionals who should be in these advisory roles. The most generous comment I have read about the Trump scions’ administrative roles is that they seem to have a moderating influence on the President and, therefore can help him perform better. However, in face of recent news about the practices and approaches engaged in by his children, this theory no longer seems credible.
Do Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner belong in these roles? This is a central question for my field of family business management, as we witness the U.S. president attempt to run the White House in the same manner as his family businesses. They have the confidence of President Trump, who indicates that he is proud of his daughter and son in-law, and trusts them to represent and advise him on both foreign and domestic issues. Despite the fact that they have achieved some success—in their respective businesses—Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner do not have experience or demonstrated skills that would qualify them for their roles in the current administration.
“In their respective businesses” is an important clause and underscores why we are justified in labeling Trump-Kushner as harmful nepots. The term nepotism is associated with giving preference in hiring and promotion to one’s relatives, independent of their merit or qualifications. To be fair, all species — from single-cell organisms to orangutans to humans — favor their close relatives, granting them more care, resources and opportunities. Most people (probably including you, dear reader) probably support and sympathize with a family’s desire to favor passing its assets to succeeding generations, as in a family company.
Assuming that President Trump views them as qualified for their posts (remembering that he views himself as highly qualified for his current position), we must still recognize that he chose them, in particular, because he wanted family members in his advisory team. He favored them in government employment because of their family membership and loyalty to him, not for their professional and governmental acumen. Hence, they are harmful nepots – instead of “nepotistic professionals,” family members who are qualified to serve in specific roles.
Professionals are individuals who, emphasizing the latest tools of their crafts, exhibit high standards of performance and ethics. Professional behavior can be seen (or not) in both family and non-family employee groups. The fact that Jared and Ivanka are family members does not automatically mean they are not professionals. Their lack of governmental and topical experience means that they are not nepotistic professionals either. For anyone to be a professional means that he or she is schooled, trained and has developed the understandings, skills and ethics of one’s trade and is qualified to be in a particular position – which Trump and Kushner are not.
President Trump, who behaves as if he and his family own the White House, has trampled on the principle of nepotistic professionalism by installing his daughter and son in-law in roles they are clearly not prepared for. In doing so, he and they not only recklessly risk the performance of our government, but also damage the image of their family and of family companies overall.
Dr. John A. Davis is a globally-recognized authority, academic and researcher on family business and family wealth. Learn more about Dr. Davis at johndavis.com and cfeg.com, on Twitter at @ProfJohnDavis, and on LinkedIn.