As a general rule, I think that private business executives are ill-equipped for public office. They come from a command and control culture, and so never develop the skills needed to succeed in an environment full of outspoken skeptics and contrarians.
Think about Wisconsin's most successful Republican governor. Tommy Thompson was not a businessman (though he became one later) but a career politician, having been elected to the Assembly in his twenties. Frankly, when it comes to being effective, there's a lot to be said for career politicians. It might have something to do with understanding how the thing you're trying to run actually works.
But there are exceptions.
Earlier in the summer, I wrote about U.S. Senate candidate Angus King, a former governor now running as an independent to replace the retiring Olympia Snow to represent Maine in the Senate. While he doesn't exactly fit the businessman turned politician mold, King has demonstrated the same kind of effective non-partisan leadership style that I think we need more of everywhere.
On the Democratic side, Colorado's governor and former Denver mayor John Hickenlooper has been wildly popular in both roles. And now on the Republican side, Michigan's governor Rick Snyder is making waves (or more to the point, not making them) as a centrist who is more interested in results than partisan politics. Hickenlooper pretty much invented the brewpub, and Snyder made a fortune as chairman of Gateway Computers and as a venture capitalist. Neither man spent a day in public office before becoming mayor and governor, respectively.
In Snyder's case, he's bucked party orthodoxy on immigration law, health care and some labor issues and he's earned the criticism of tea party activists. He relentlessly talks about "relentless positive action" and he refers to the residents of Michigan as his "customers."
While I might disagree with other things that Snyder has done (in most things he still follows the GOP party line), I admire his style of governing. We need more of this.