They come from a different world, where optics and opinion polls matter less than keeping the shareholders happy.
But when they enter the realm of public policy, with controversial transactions that require governments' approval, titans of the business community have little choice but to speak politicians' language.
As the proposed merger of the TMX Group and the London Stock Exchange is demonstrating, that's not an easy thing to do. And if that deal winds up getting kiboshed, it will be a case study in what happens when the business world doesn't quite know what it's getting itself into.
Consider the way the announcement played out this week in Ontario, the province that has the most at stake if the Toronto Stock Exchange falls under predominantly foreign ownership.
From Bay Street's perspective, Dalton McGuinty's government was treated with all the respect it deserved. Rather than blindsiding Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, executives paid him a courtesy visit more than 24 hours before the deal was unveiled. That way, he'd have time to study the proposal and to prepare his reaction to it.
But talk to government relations experts, and you'll hear a different take: Queen's Park should have been looped in a whole lot earlier.
Ontario, like the federal government and Quebec, has a de facto veto over the deal. In an election year, the Liberals' decision will be based on whether they think letting it go through would help or hurt their prospects of winning another term. Mr. McGuinty needs to be convinced that it fits into his "Open Ontario" pitch, which among other things involves making Toronto more of a financial capital, rather than contradicting it.
That kind of political messaging is not the domain of business executives, so there were limited odds they'd strike a tone the Liberals were comfortable with. And indeed, the way the deal is being framed so far - as more a foreign takeover than a merger of equals, with the billionaire ruler of Dubai holding the largest share - is making the politicians uncomfortable. When domestic jobs are at stake, along with sovereignty concerns that go with shifting control of an iconic entity, they're unlikely to content themselves with merely explaining to voters that such is the way of the modern world.
It may be that this particular deal could never achieve a perfect marriage of business and political interests. But it would stand a better chance if its advocates had gone to governments weeks in advance, and asked what it would take to get them on board. They then might have been able to work together on everything from ownership structure to preconditioning the public to ensuring that there are no unpleasant surprises in the fine print, such as the current clause that allows for shrinking the number of Canadians on the merged company's board after four years.
In a perfect world, such advance talks would have resulted in Mr. McGuinty or Mr. Duncan - along with representatives of other affected governments - participating in the announcement itself. At a minimum, it would have given all concerned a better understanding of how things will move forward now.
Of course, there are good arguments not to go that route as well. There tend to be more leaks out of political backrooms than executive boardrooms, so the proponents were likely advised by lawyers to wait until late in the game to take that risk.
Most people who live in the business world, rather than the political one, would likely agree with that advice. But that helps explain why it's often an unhappy outcome when those two worlds collide.
Politicians would never acknowledge that publicly, given how the ethics might be perceived. But it was perhaps telling that, as he struck a decidedly cautious tone this week, Mr. Duncan approvingly evoked the memory of the federal government blocking proposed bank mergers in the later 1990s.
It's widely believed that the decision by Paul Martin - then the federal finance minister - was heavily influenced by his anger at having been caught by surprise, rather than consulted in advance.
Neither the circumstances around the fate of the TSX, nor the potential consequences, are quite the same. But the outcome could be.