Candidate Cain

From running businesses to fighting cancer, Herman Cain brings a wealth of experience to his run for the Republican presidential nomination | 
Herman Cain/Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP

Presidential candidate Herman Cain, 65, has a master's degree from Purdue in computer science but learned—from supervising 450 Philadelphia-area Burger Kings and becoming CEO of Godfathers Pizza—that business management is more art than science. So is marriage: Cain's has lasted 43 years so far. Here are edited excerpts from an interview that occurred last month at a WORLD Donors Weekend in Asheville.

Five years ago you learned that you had Stage 4 cancer in your colon and liver. Thankfully, it's gone now, but how did you take the news? I didn't even know what it was, so I asked the surgeon, "What is Stage 4?" His exact words were: "That's as bad as it can get." He was perfectly blunt with me. He challenged my faith, and one of the things that strengthened my faith was when I looked at my wife when we were getting in the car leaving the surgeon's office, and I said, "I can get through this." She said, "We can get through this."

Did that lead to your current campaign? It made me painfully aware of how precious life is, and we know not the day that it could be gone. I had been blessed to achieve my American dreams and then some. I just wanted to be comfortable. I know the reason I am now totally cancer free—the chance of survival was only 30 percent—is because God wanted me to do something different than stay in cruise control the rest of my life. I never grew up wanting to be president of the United States. I didn't seriously think about running until Barack Obama became president and I watched him beginning to destroy this nation and weaken America.

President Obama talks about job creation from politicians, but he has no business experience. What has your substantial experience taught you about job creation? I've learned that (1) if you remove barriers to entrepreneurial creativity, jobs will be created and (2) the best job creators will always be the business owners who connect the best with their people.

How did you improve performance at Burger King? Only 100 of the 450 were company-owned, which meant that my ideas had to be compelling and the owners needed to clearly see how it was going to benefit their business. I couldn't change the Whopper. I couldn't dictate the national advertiser. The one thing that a leader can always do in any situation is change the attitude of the organization.

So how did you change the attitude? Often leaders assume that people in their organization know what the keys to success are. No they don't. Gallup research has shown for decades that only 42 percent of workers worldwide know exactly what is expected of them. We needed a list of guiding principles. President Reagan was famous for saying peace through strength. My guiding principle is, peace through strength and clarity. Employees need to understand that. Another thing that helps people to be self-motivated is spontaneous unexpected praise—that-a-boy, that-a-girl—every seven days. Every seven days compliment your people spontaneously. If you can't catch them doing something right in seven days, you've got another problem.

How would that apply to being president of the United States? I talk about commonsense solutions. I intentionally make them easy to be understood by the general public. If the people understand it, they will support it and they will demand it. That's my 9-9-9 economic growth and jobs plan. Throw out the current tax code. Replace it with a 9 percent corporate tax, a 9 percent tax on personal income, and a 9 percent national sales tax. The payroll tax, the capital gains tax, and the death tax all go away.

The income tax started out very small. If we made such a switch, adding a 9 percent national sales tax, what's to keep it at 9-9-9 rather than 20-20-20? As part of the legislation, we'd require a two-thirds vote of the Senate to raise the 9-9-9. The other thing is, the 9-9-9 plan is phase one of my economic vision. Phase 2 would be to totally replace that with a straight national sales tax called the fair tax. It would also require a two-thirds vote of the Senate to touch that.

You speak of gaining popular support for that proposal and others, but the experience of recent presidents has been that the people are very fickle. I interpret the old military saying "KISS," to mean Keep it Sweet and Simple. The previous presidents, including our current one, have complicated matters. People are trying to take care of their families and run their businesses. They don't have time to read a 2,700-page piece of legislation. I will introduce legislation that is easier to understand. I will appoint cabinet members with leadership experience, problem solving experience, business experience. In the current administration, 7 to 8 percent of the appointees have business, real-world experience. In the Cain administration over 90 percent of the people will have had a real job in the private sector.

You've been debating other presidential candidates. Would you put any of them in your cabinet? Yes. I would respectfully request Speaker Gingrich to be secretary of State. ... I would ask Mitt Romney to consider two jobs: chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors or Treasury secretary. I would give Paul Ryan those same two options also. Representative Michele Bachmann—yes, I could see her being in a Herman Cain cabinet, but I haven't figured out what position yet. I have a lot of respect for her.

You've talked about S.I.N. among liberals—shift the subject, ignore the facts, name-calling. Do you ever see S.I.N. among conservatives? That's deep, doc. Not all conservatives are created equal so there are some that will try shift the subject and ignore the facts—but you don't have a lot of name-calling coming from conservatives like we have coming from liberals.

I'll go deeper. What difference does it make whether a person believes in evolution or a person believes that God created the world? None. I happen to be a believer, and I believe that God created the world.... My faith I put right front and center. And I won't apologize for it. I realize there are some people who do not share my faith; that's why this country was created. So to try to make an issue out of "Do you believe what's in the Bible about God creating the earth and universe vs. the evolutionary theory?"—I don't think that's relevant to turning this economy around and protecting this nation.

Listen to a report on Herman Cain from the Oct. 15 edition of the radio program The World and Everything in It.