Correction to This Article
Previous editions of this column in print and on the Web incorrectly identified Henry Gandy of the Duberstein Group as Fred Gandy. This version has been corrected.

Engler Isn't Angling for Criticism

Rudolph W. Giuliani has assembled a power team in Washington.
Rudolph W. Giuliani has assembled a power team in Washington. (By Brendan Smialowski -- Getty Images)
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Washington was abuzz last week that something must be up at the National Association of Manufacturers.

Dozens of corporate executives on NAM's board received a surprise e-mail from the chairman of the big lobby group. Its subject line read: "A special request from the NAM chairman's office."

The e-mail contained a link to an online survey that, at least in some versions, included a couple of questions about the performance of NAM's president, John M. Engler, and his senior staff.

Might the former Michigan governor's tenure at the influential lobbying group be in jeopardy? No one could remember a similar survey going out before, especially one that contained not just inquiries about federal policy positions but also some about the president's leadership.

NAM has gone through unsettlingly rapid change lately, with more than 60 staffers leaving since Engler took over in 2004 -- a pace unusual for staid trade associations. Its membership also has been at war with itself over how aggressively to deal with China trade and currency policies -- NAM's big members want restraint; its smaller members want quick action.

A few heads of corporate offices in Washington have been grumbling privately about Engler's effectiveness and lack of management savvy.

But the person who sent out the survey said the speculation is unfounded. The survey is not a sign of discontent with Engler or his people, he said.

Charles E. Bunch, NAM's chairman and the chief executive of PPG Industries of Pittsburgh, acknowledged in an interview that the board has discussed the rapid turnover at NAM but concluded that it was due mostly to the hot K Street job market rather than anything awry under Engler.

The survey, he said, was part of the broad trend in corporate America to gather as much information as possible from as many sources as possible before making decisions. It was not an affront to Engler.

In fact, Bunch said, the questions about Engler and his people were included in the survey by Engler himself.

"If I wanted to solicit feedback about the performance of Governor Engler, I wouldn't do it as part of a survey; I would do it in confidence and would control the process myself," Bunch said.

But he said he sees no need to make such an inquiry. "We're very pleased with the performance of Governor Engler and the whole team at NAM," he said.

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