Bobby Hitt at Commerce

Pretty much everyone who follows such things has said Nikki Haley’s first big test would be choosing her Commerce Secretary. And now we see how she has chosen. And it is very… interesting.

For the last couple of hours, since I heard that she had picked Bobby Hitt, I’ve been thinking back over my long association with him and wondering what I can legitimately say that is relevant to the situation.

You see, I know Bobby Hitt. I’ve known him for years. I served with Bobby Hitt. And you, senator, are no…

Wait, wrong tape loop…

Here’s the thing: Bobby Hitt used to be my boss, back when he was managing editor of The State and I was the gummint affairs editor. We worked together in a tumultuous time, as newsroom management was in transition from the old, family-owned regime to a new breed that, for lack of a better term, I’ll call the Knight Ridder editors. Bobby was a leading light of the first category, I was the vanguard of the second (I was the first editor in the newsroom from a KR paper — in fact, I think, the first who had ever been an editor outside South Carolina — after KR bought The State). I didn’t feel like an interloper or a spy — as a native South Carolinian, I just felt like a guy who had come home — but a lot of people regarded me as such. And Bobby was the new generation of the old guard. Some sparks were inevitable.

When I came to work at The State in 1987, Bobby was away doing a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, which sorta told me he was no dummy. When he came back in ’88, he was elevated to managing editor of The State (he had headed The Columbia Record before that). In 1990, Gil Thelen replaced my good friend and Bobby’s mentor, Tom McLean, as executive editor. About a year later, Bobby left the paper. What happened in between is a bit of a whirl in my memory, as it was the year of the Lost Trust scandal, the departure of Jim Holderman from USC, and about a dozen other scandals that had my staff running like crazy to stay ahead of them. (A time Cindi Scoppe alluded to in her column about me when I left the paper.)

Working with Bobby was … interesting. Bobby is a character and a half. He’s intense, and has a manner that works well with folks who think, “This guy will flat get some things done,” and very much rubs others the wrong way.

Bobby went to work for Nelson Mullins when he left the paper, and when BMW came into the state and hired that law firm to represent it, Bobby was delegated to help the Germans negotiate the complexities and peculiarities of public and governmental relations. They were so impressed by the job he did that they hired him away from Nelson Mullins, and he’s been up in Greer ever since, playing a key role at the operation that still stands as the big ecodevo success of the last two or three decades.

His intimate knowledge of the workings of such a business and what they’re looking for in a home should stand him in good stead, and no doubt was a huge factor in Nikki Haley picking him for this job. (An anecdote Bobby told me a few years ago about why BMW picked SC… Two reasons: First, our storied tech school system, which they relied upon to train their workers. Second — a BMW exec went on a driving tour of residential neighborhoods in the Greenville-Spartanburg area. He approvingly noted the neat houses and well-kept yards, and decided that people who took care of their property and community like that were people they could work with. The first is an ecodevo asset we understand and are happy to exploit. The second was intriguingly intangible.) The BMW name is political magic, and she’s no doubt hoping some of that magic will rub off on Commerce.

Oh, one other thing of interest: I can’t really tell you for sure what Bobby’s politics might be. News people didn’t speak to each other about such things. But I know he’s Rob Miller’s uncle. Assuming Nikki knew that, kudos to her for not letting that get in the way.

I’m going to be listening with interest the next few days to what business leaders say about this pick. Not what they’re quoted as saying in the paper, but what they say more informally. They’ve mostly been VERY anxious for a new approach to ecodevo in both the governor’s office and Commerce, which is why a lot of them supported Vincent Sheheen against the Sanfordista candidate. Nikki knows that, and knowing it, she has made a rather bold and unconventional pick.

Bobby is a unique individual, from his thick Charleston accent to that slightly mad, conspiratorial, insinuating grin that explodes out of his scruffy red beard at the least provocation. He’s certainly not the standard-issue CEO type that one expects in the Commerce job. No man in the gray flannel suit is he. I feel confident he’ll grab ‘hold of Commerce with both hands, and make something happen or bust a gut in the attempt. His uniqueness will either blow up in Gov.-to-be Haley’s face, or pay off big time. I hope, for South Carolina’s sake, that the latter is the case. I’ll be rooting for Bobby (and Nikki for that matter — she’s the only governor we’ve got), and if I can ever help him get the job done, I’ll be glad to do what I can. We need a win. We need a bunch of ’em.

19 thoughts on “Bobby Hitt at Commerce

  1. bud

    Brad, nice description of Mr. Hitt. This seems like a good pick, unconventional maybe, but he sounds like a very hard working individual.

  2. Brad

    Thanks, Bud. Here’s the SC Chamber’s reaction:

    “The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce applauds Governor-elect Haley on the appointment of Bobby Hitt, a strong business leader, to head the South Carolina Department of Commerce,” said Otis Rawl, president and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. “Bobby and I have worked closely on a number of issues, and he understands the opportunities and challenges facing businesses interested in expanding in South Carolina and those considering locating in the Palmetto State. Governor-elect Haley has talked about the importance of putting quality business leaders in critical government positions. A strong Department of Commerce leader is a crucial element of economic competitiveness in the state, and we thank Governor-elect Haley for her commitment to that.”

  3. Brad

    … and here’s what Lindsey Graham said:

    “The appointment of Bobby as South Carolina’s new Secretary of Commerce is a home-run for economic development in our state.  I applaud Governor-elect Haley’s decision to put Bobby in this incredibly important position.

    “Bobby has a firm grasp on the needs of our state.  He is among the top-tier of individuals who fully understand the steps that must be taken to grow our economy and create jobs.  During his time at BMW, he’s been a great leader and played an instrumental role in navigating the recent expansions of the plant.  Bobby knows from his own experience that South Carolina truly is a great place to do business.  As our Secretary of Commerce, Bobby can sell the South Carolina story – a right to work state with low taxes and a world-class workforce – to business interests here in the United States and around the globe.”

  4. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Smart guy, it seems, and knows the game, but not sure what up with the Glen Campbell grooming…

  5. jfx

    The impression I get from reading up on Mr. Hitt is that he’s more qualified to be guv than Nikki. This is starting to become a running theme. I commend Gresham Barrett for writing Hitt’s name on the napkin that was placed in Henry McMaster’s pocket.

  6. Doug Ross

    Too bad the Constitution doesn’t allow for giving bonuses to executives who do well. Imagine if Mr. Hitt was told he would get $250,000 dollars for every percentage point the unemployement rate dropped by January 2014.

    People respond to incentives.

  7. Juan Caruso

    Unanimous hope for S.C.’s business recruiting success abounds (except in the Sheheen camp, naturally).

    In ordinary times Mr. Hitt could clearly succeed as Commerce

    The wisdom of Nikki’s selection, however, goes well beyond suitability for recruiting success in an ordinary business climate. During the coming 2-3 years of inevitable business rentrenchments, the Hitt appointment carries a significant degree of political insulation.

    Appointment of a very prominent lawyer with Mr. Hitt’s connections effectively silences expected, undue sniping from the Sheheen camp over lethargic efforts and limited results. Hitt has too many ties in high places, including the Lawyer-Political Complex (you may Google the term) for even Sheheen’s jackals to upset without repercussions to his very livelihood, much less his political future.

    Vincent must be absolutely furious at Nikki’s savvy picks so far.

  8. Ralph Hightower

    I certainly hope that he will recruit business and industry to South Carolina. Also, that Nikki Haley drops her focus on advancing as herself nationally to run for Vice President or President of US and instead works for South Carolina, which is the position that 51% of the state voted for her to do.

  9. Doug Ross

    Did you know that the unemployment rate for college graduates is only 5•1%? And it is over 16% for high school dropouts? What kind of jobs can Mr. Hitt bring in for the dropouts? Maybe one of the conditions for extended unemployment benefits should be going to GED classes.

  10. bud

    During the coming 2-3 years of inevitable business rentrenchments, the Hitt appointment carries a significant degree of political insulation.

    Why is business rentrenchments inevitable? That’s the kind of self-defeating nonsense that thwarts any efforts to improve our economy. I suggest the only reason for big business sitting on their hands is because it’s profitable to do so. I suggest a tax on businesses who hoard cash. And an even bigger tax for those who outsource jobs abroad. That would get things moving. SC could be the model for this type of initiative. Hire SC resident and you get a huge tax break. Hire outside the state and “no soup for you”.

  11. Doug Ross


    > I suggest a tax on businesses who hoard cash.

    And how about a tax on citizens who dare to save money as well?

    Geez, bud, put down the Karl Marx handbook and realize that to force businesses to spend money is insanity. They are in business to MAKE PROFITS! As much profit as they can. You know what you can do to take part? Buy stock in those companies that you think are too profitable or have too much cash.

  12. Mark Stewart


    The story about driving around the Greenville/Spartanbug area and seeing all the super maintained lawns and homes leave a positive impression on a German was a hoot.

    Maybe he can make diamonds out of coal after all.

    But really, the only job of a Commerce Secretary is to rubber stamp and sheppard through extensive corprate incentive packages. He’ll be Secretary Pay-to-Play.

  13. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @ Doug– the problem with giving incentives to the top folks is you’d need to control for the normal economic swing. Anyone who can’t increase employment from current rates should be fired, or at least I hope we are at the bottom and starting to move up the other side.

  14. Doug Ross

    Interesting “sweetener” in the deal to bring Amazon to Lexington County.

    Read more:

    The deal includes a promise by county officials to repeal a ban on most retail sales before 1:30 p.m. on Sundays, a restriction that has faded in adjoining Richland County and other parts of South Carolina.

    The more of these archaic, confusing laws that can be erased off the books, the better.

  15. Greg Jones

    In a less cynical bend, maybe coming now from industry, he can bring something more than a “rubber stamp”.
    Can we pay him enough? I tend to understand the (lack of) quality in many elected and appointed state poo-bahs by looking at their salaries.

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