"They say, if you want a friend in Washington," President Obama told Jay Leno, "get a dog." The Obamas at last got theirs — a 6-month-old, black-and-white Portuguese water dog named Bo, expected to be officially introduced today — fulfilling the long-anticipated campaign promise to daughters Sasha and Malia.
Obama's observation on The Tonight Show is no revelation to business leaders, who say it can be so lonely at the top that dogs are the only constant source of unconditional love. Most CEOs are diplomatic enough to say that their wives are their best friends, but in times when CEOs are particularly reviled, the dog never has a hidden agenda.
"My dog will love me even if my $50 billion Ponzi scheme is discovered," jokes Jack Holt, CEO of S3 Matching Technologies, a software company based in Austin. Holt owns two dogs, a Great Dane mix named Ella and a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Hank.
Harold Burson, founder of Burson-Marsteller, the world's largest public relations firm, says his wife has seen him cry twice in 62 years of marriage: When his father died and when his 13-year-old diabetic dog Angus was put to sleep. "On downer days, one gets an immediate uplift at the joyous and totally unencumbered greeting that only a canine can give," Burson says.
First Dogs are a tradition that dates to George Washington, and with Bo, the White House joins the 39% of U.S. households with a dog, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. But among CEOs, company presidents, chairmen and founders that percentage jumps to 66, according to an unscientific USA TODAY survey. Seventy-five of 114 who responded to a USA TODAY query own at least one dog, including PetSmart CEO Philip Francis, who owns a rescued terrier named Bit O'Honey.
Scott Jones, CEO of ChaCha, a website that answers texted questions, owns seven dogs including a Neapolitan mastiff named Megatron, a Saint Bernard named Titan, a boxer named Tyson, a Boston terrier named Oreo and two teacup Yorkies named Tandy and Duff. Jones is also the only CEO to own a dog named Beau, although spelled differently than the Obama dog. Beau is a French bulldog. None of the CEOs owns a Portuguese water dog.
CEO dogs range from shelter mutts to show champions, and there seems to be some deceptive branding going on. There's a husky-wolf mix named Rascal, and the four CEO dogs that are pit bulls or pit bull mixes are named Molly, Clover, Tibby and Chloe Belle.
There's more truth in advertising in names such as a West Highland terrier owned by Bayer CEO Greg Babe named Kobe; and Dutchess, a 5-year-old Yorkie owned by Alan Miller, CEO of hospital company United Health Services. "Intimidating burglars is still my job," Miller says.
Dogs are more than companions, and the First Dog might be strategically employed during sensitive negotiations, says Graham Kill, the CEO of Irdeto in Beijing, a digital media technology company with a second headquarters in Amsterdam and 900 workers in 25 offices worldwide.
Kill was once seated at the negotiating table in the headquarters of a competitor. Sleeping in the corner was Sweetie, a black schnauzer owned by the rival CEO. Every now and then Sweetie would get up and bury her nose in Kill's crotch and sniff out the situation.