Masters of Leadership:Chris Christie

The former New Jersey governor offers principles for managing through times of crisis.

By Mark Toner

Drawing from his experiences confronting the devastation of Superstorm Sandy as governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie urged business leaders to remain visible and vocal in the face of crisis.

“What people hate most in a disaster is when they feel like decisions aren’t being made and progress isn’t being made. With your employees, it’s very important for you to be visible, aggressive, and to have a plan and be talking about it all the time,” Christie said as part of the Masters in Leadership series, sponsored by NVTC and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

Christie singled out a bipartisan pair of current governors—Larry Hogan (R-Md.) and Mario Cuomo (D-N.Y.)—as effective communicators during the current coronavirus crisis. “They are out there talking to their public, and they’ve had a plan and are executing on their plan. Now people will critique the plan as they critique the plan in every circumstance. But there’s nothing worse than people feeling as if you’re rudderless in a crisis. You’ve got to provide that strength,” Christie said during the May 22 event, which was moderated by CTA president and CEO, bestselling author and NVTC board member Gary Shapiro.  

Speaking from his home in New Jersey, Christie shared three guiding principles for managing crisis. First, he said, “do not be afraid to overreact and overprepare when confronting a disaster. Once you’ve underprepared or underreacted, it’s very difficult to ramp it up in the midst of the crisis.” 

Second, bring the best people to the table—“and not just keep them in their lane,” Christie said, drawing from the example of putting the head of New Jersey’s economic development authority on the task of reopening the state’s gas stations after the hurricane struck. “If there’s something else you need them to do, it’s all hands on deck,” he said.

Finally, it’s vital to “rip off the rearview mirror” and avoid rethinking every decision, Christie said. “If you wring your hands over every decision, you’re never going to make [them] and the inbox is just going to pile up,” he said. “If we made a decision that turned out to be truly bad, believe me, it would come back through the windshield and we would get another crack at it.”

A vocal proponent of reopening the U.S. economy, Christie stressed the importance of letting governors make decisions in the best interest of their states. “As a governor, you’ve got to decide what you think is best for your state, given the circumstances that are on the ground,” he said. “I don’t think anyone could argue now with a straight face that keeping this country closed is in our best interest. We now have 36 million people unemployed, and it’s going to take a long time for those jobs to come back… so we have to fight for the American way of life as well.”

Christie singled out technology leaders for ensuring that the nation’s Internet infrastructure has handled the transition to working at home and videoconferencing. “It’s an incredible testimony to the infrastructure that has been built in the main by the private sector and the incredible innovation that’s been developed by the technology industry to allow that infrastructure to be utilized in a way that’s been so expansive and incredibly necessary during a time like this,” he said. Christie also urged technology leaders to “start talking about the great advantages they bring to this country.”

Christie also made the case for bipartisanship, noting the backlash he suffered during President Obama’s response to Sandy and giving President Trump credit for “turning around” the White House’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak. He stressed the importance of creating incentives to support small businesses, revitalizing the U.S. manufacturing base, and rebuilding infrastructure.

“If we see this [crisis] through the lens of being more regional than partisan, I think it will bring our cynicism down a little bit,” Christie said. 

Long considered a presidential contender, Christie didn’t rule out the possibility of running again—and he made one other observation about outgoing NVTC President & CEO Bobbie Kilberg.

“If I’m president, I can’t imagine that I’m not going to be talking to Bobbie most days,” Christie said.

The next speaker in the Masters of Leadership series is AMD President & CEO Dr. Lisa Su, who will speak on June 2. For more information, click here.

Mark Toner is a Reston-based technology writer.