Dan Centinello

Before the Oval Office: The Careers of Former Presidents before Politics

A candidate for President of the United States is expected to have a wide range of expertise, knowledge, and leadership experience if they hope to win election to the highest office in the land. But how exactly does a president-to-be go about accumulating the necessary experience to hold the job? Is there a precise formula of work history, education, and civic engagement that brings on a win in the electoral college? Not exactly—in fact no two presidents’ former careers are the same. Take a look at the careers of several former presidents before they ascended to the Oval Office.

George W. Bush (2001-2009)

After service in the Air Force, in 1977, Bush founded an oil exploration company called Arbusto Energy that was later renamed Bush Exploration. The company then merged with Spectrum 7, another oil company, and Bush subsequently became Spectrum 7’s Chairman and CEO. In 1986, Harken Energy Corporation bought Spectrum 7; Bush was appointed to Harken’s Board of Directors, a post which he held until 1993.

Bush also famously purchased a controlling interest in the Texas Rangers in 1989, and he served as the managing general partner for five years. He was a common face at many games where he enjoyed sitting in the stands with fans.

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)

Following his graduation from Eureka College in 1932, Reagan moved to Iowa and found work as a radio personality and announcer for Chicago Cubs games. While traveling with the Cubs in California, Reagan began his career as an actor by signing a seven-year screen contract with Warner Brothers Studios.

By 1939, he had appeared in 19 films, and thanks to his performance as George Gipp in 1940’s Knute Rockne, All American, Reagan earned the lifelong nickname of “The Gipper.” His favorite role, and perhaps his most famous, was as double-amputee Drake McHugh in the 1942 film King’s Row. In 1947, he was elected President of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and he was reelected to the position seven times.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Eisenhower attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army after graduating. He served at bases across the country as well as in the Panama Canal Zone and the Philippines. During World War II, he was promoted to the role of Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, where he planned the invasion of Normandy and oversaw Allied operations until Germany’s eventual surrender in 1945.

After World War II, Eisenhower served as President of Columbia University in New York City. In 1948, he returned to active military service as the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe of the newly-formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).