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Obama and oil spill: Lessons from corporate world

WASHINGTON — As chief executive officer of America Inc., Barack Obama has walked the factory floor when it comes to managing the federal response to the Gulf oil spill, going directly to front-line workers.

He's used wiles respected in the boardroom in wringing a $20 billion commitment from BP.

But what was that talk about kicking butt? That's so assembly line Ford Motor Co., circa 1930.

And why on Earth did it take him so long to talk to BP's chief? A real CEO would have had Tony Hayward on the phone in a New York minute.

The president is not, of course, the head of a company. He's accountable to the public in ways a chief executive is not to shareholders. Governance and politics differ from effective corporate management while sharing certain qualities.

But everyone wants to see the get-it-done ethic of the business world play out in the Gulf of Mexico and in the often confused lines of federal authority. A temporary cap on the ruptured well has held since it was attached on July 15; a permanent fix is expected in August. Since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, between 94 million and 184 million gallons have leaked into the Gulf.

The Gulf calamity, like the presidency itself, is a crash course in executive management for a man who came to office with no such experience to speak of. How's he doing?