Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Neil Bush promotes brother, business

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Neil Bush arrived at the White House on the morning of Sept. 11 and found “a war atmosphere,” soldiers with machine guns at every turn.

Neil Bush (right) met with Dick Lynch, founder of the Leadership Club, and Casey Barach, executive director of Madison E-Zone.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        The one exception to the chaos that day, after terrorists had struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center: his brother, the president of the United States.

        “He was determined, but he was calm,” Neil Bush said of President Bush. “It was tense, kind of a sense of urgency. I saw the president briefly, and I saw a clear sense of determination.”

        “It was pretty weird staying in the White House that night.”

        The younger Mr. Bush was in Covington Monday to speak to a group of corporate executives called the Leadership Club and to establish an office for his fledgling Internet company, Ignite Learning.

        In an interview with the Enquirer, the 47-year-old “first brother” talked about the atmosphere in the White House the day of the terrorist attacks, the Enron Corp. scandal that has rocked the Bush family's hometown of Houston, and his brother's performance in office.

        He also touted his company's new satellite home in the Madison E-Zone, a high-tech incubator started last year at Sixth Street and Madison Avenue in Covington.

        Munching on a cheeseburger and fries a block away — with a Secret Service agent sitting alongside — Mr. Bush said his brother had done well, exactly as the Bush family expected.

        “I'd say my older brother is really on top of his game,” he said, as a television above showed the president speak ing earlier this week.

        “He's had an historic opportunity to show his leadership.”

        Neil Bush started Ignite Learning in early 1999. It has developed an interactive software for middle-school history and science courses, adapting to students' styles and learning tendencies.

        Two schools in Cincinnati are already testing the system, and Mr. Bush hopes to spread the wealth as Ignite starts selling the product in 2002.

        “I think of myself as a publisher who uses state-of-the-art technology,” he said. “Middle-school students are subjected to a very boring paradigm of curriculum delivery, memorizing stuff that means nothing to them in their life.

        “Information can be presented in ways that touch all kids' learning buttons.”

        Mr. Bush made headlines in the 1980s when he was a director for Silverado, a savings and loan that eventually crashed, costing taxpayers a reported $1 billion.

        But Ignite Learning is his sole business investment now. He has raised $18 million from private investors for Ignite Learning and probably will seek a partnership with a traditional publisher to gain credibility.

        Ignite started after Mr. Bush's oldest child struggled with lessons that his father said were little more than memorization.

        “I guess I'm the public face of the company,” he said. “If I can leverage what I've been given, the family name, then I'm leveraging it for the good of kids.”

        The Houston resident also talked about:

        • Enron: While he is not a stockholder of the bankrupt energy company, Mr. Bush recognized the wide-ranging impact of the company's collapse last year.

        But he dismissed any suggestions of a political scandal.

        “I don't think it's a scandal,” he said. “I think that's kind of a stretch. When they went to the administration for a favor, this administration turned them down ... The beauty of the American system is that companies succeed and companies fail.”

        • His own political ambitions: Mr. Bush hinted that he might get involved in political life, like his father, former President George H.W. Bush, his brother George W., the current president, and his other brother in the public spotlight, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

        “I'm out of politics, but I love politics,” he said. “I recently felt that when Ignite becomes successful, that as another phase in my life I'd like to get involved with these issues on a policy basis.”

        • His brother's education plan: Although Neil Bush said his brother's commitment to education is real, he questioned the emphasis on constant testing to keep federal aid coming to public schools.

        “I share the concerns of many that if our system is driven around assessments, pencil-and-paper tests that test a kid's ability to memorize stuff, I would say that reliance threatens to institutionalize bad teaching practices,” he said.


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