The fate of the world's sixth largest economy rests in Arnold Schwarzenegger's hands. Whom do we have to thank? Car-alarm entrepreneur Darrell Issa. The two-time Inc. 500 CEO from San Diego--now a Republican congressman--bankrolled the California recall. Issa had said he would run to replace Gray Davis himself, until a certain Terminator jumped into the race.
Do you wish you had become governor, and not Arnold?
From the start, this was about the need to get rid of Gray Davis. I would never have been in the recall if others had been able to get it done.
During the campaign, it came out that your brother had served prison time for stealing cars--kind of ironic given that your company, Directed Electronics, made car alarms.
Three elections ago I made it clear that yes, I founded an auto security company, and yes, my brother was convicted multiple times for being a car thief. Had I participated in....If you don't mind, let me say it a different way: Had I at times been unwilling to implicate my brother in things that I knew or could have known that he did? Yeah. For 20 years, people asked me how I got in the business and I told them my brother was a car thief. He even stole two of my cars. Was his past part of what got me interested in the business? I suppose so. My '63 VW bus and my '79 Mercedes diesel would have never been taken by my brother if I had been designing my auto security system back then.
Given the bad press, do you ever regret leaving business for politics?
Usually I say that politics reminds me of the brass-knuckles world of consumer electronics. In business, your opponents don't talk about your brother's record, so that's different. But if you're not able to take the heat, you shouldn't be CEO--or a representative of the people. You need to have people know that you're going to accomplish what you say you will or go down trying.
We hear companies are fleeing California. Is Directed Electronics staying put?
Yes, it is. Well, actually, that's not true. We did move the corporate headquarters for tax purposes out of state. If you're looking at it as a dollars and cents position, which the board [on which Issa sits] does, it makes sense to go elsewhere. So it is based in Florida, but the operations are still in California.
You spent $1.7 million of your own money on the recall. Was it worth it?
If you can take $1.7 million and leverage it against a $38 billion problem and help fix that problem, then it's the best leveraged capital you can invest.