Can Entrepreneurs Save the World?

ByABC News
November 9, 2001, 5:50 PM

Nov. 12 -- Editor's Note: Michael Malone makes a welcome return after his column's hiatus, with a multi-part exploration of the ways in which entrepreneurs make the world go around, based on an address he made at Oxford University earlier this month.

In light of recent events, the subject of entrepreneurs and how they live may seem marginal. But in fact, it is central.

That is because no figure presents a more complete and compelling argument against the powers of totalitarianism, of bigotry, and of intellectual slavery, than the modern entrepreneur operating in a free and open society.

That's a lot of baggage to put on the backs of such an eccentric, prickly and downright contrary group of men and women. And yet, having grown up in Silicon Valley, the heartland of American technology entrepreneurship, having reported on entrepreneurs as a journalist for a quarter century, and not least, having been an entrepreneur failed and successful myself, I believe this truth more than ever.

Entrepreneurship is not just the emblematic profession of the modern digital economy; it is also the most liberating and life-enhancing activity that civilization has yet produced.

That probably sounds utterly crazy. What about vicars and emergency room physicians and schoolteachers and drug counselors? What about social activists and pharmaceutical researchers and AIDS nurses and soup kitchen volunteers? What about prime ministers and presidents, judges and test pilots?

How dare I compare unfavorably at that the work of these fine and noble people against the activities of arrogant young plutocrats-in-training who care little about consequences in their pursuit of stock options and market share? I do dare and it's important that you understand why I do.

A Legend, Retold

Let's start with a familiar story: the legend of Bill Hewlett and David Packard.

Two young men start a company in a Palo Alto garage, grow it to billions of dollars in sales and in the process sell millions of test and measurement devices, computers, calculators and printers. They die old, rich and covered with honors. It's one of the great business stories of the 20th century.