A Culture of Listening: Restoring Civic Dialog 2018
By Peter Forbes & Amy Scott. Download the full essay as a PDF.
Healing And Repairing. Re-imagining Conservation From Where Our Lives Intersect. 2016
By Peter Forbes, For Maine Coast Heritage Trust (Download the full essay as a PDF)
Written for people everywhere who devote their lives to healthy soils, forests, oceans and people, Healing and Repairing demonstrates through practical examples how better understanding one another will lead to more successful and durable ways to protect nature. At a moment when our nation debates the value of walls and isolation, how might an emerging practice of conservation that honors differences and connects people offer a more compelling story? By carefully examining how this is happening in one place, this essay aspires to respectfully stretch and encourage a change in conservation everywhere. Conservation is Maine is molting as a concept, revealing how much Maine -with all its traditions from privilege to poverty - has moved the discussion forward toward inclusion and a broader definition of conservation that more and more people can see themselves within. The narrower our definition of conservation the less of it we will have. Maine is asking us to have a different conversation, not one about ecology or one about human well-being but one about how these two things can’t succeed without the other.
The story in brief
Maine is a place shaped by stories. The most important ones are about our relationships, the kind we have with places and the kind we have with each other. This essay explores dozens of efforts underway today to re-think the promise of place-making as bringing those two stories together: repairing and, perhaps, healing some of the divides between us while strengthening people’s connections to a healthy landscape.
Through examining a uniquely modern lineage of conservation from Rockefeller to Rachel Carson to Helen and Scott Nearing, these different perspectives have created an ethic with three goals: protect a place, protect peoples’ relationship to that place, and invite new people to share in those benefits. This essay looks at land trusts working on food security, on rebuilding local wood economies, on fostering local self-determination in the face of global investment, and understanding how to sustain a fishing industry, on improving how some rural cultures treat each other, and how we might consider sharing what we have through a new national park.
Chapter 1: Imagine This. A look at what possible.
Chapter 2: A Story of Two Maines: the edge, centuries in the making, that divides people.
Chapter 3. Who owns Conservation? When does conservation belong to everyone?
Chapter 4: Human Wellbeing. How saving people is connected to saving nature
Chapter 5: Commitment and Creativity. Exploring new measures of success.
Chapter 6: Being in service. How does conservation serve all of us?
If we are willing to change the types of conversation we have and to broaden the audience we commit to speaking with, then conservation can support a much broader range of issues and opportunities. Conservationists have a longer time horizon and many have unique privileges and expectations that contrast with local views. If conservationists can raise their awareness to consider patterns of class, local fears and shorter time perspectives they can work through many of these divisions and forge understandings to be able to share power and neighbor well. And in this effort to better understand one another, we are learning the skills to protect land in a much more durable way.
In other words, by expanding our awareness and strengthening our knowledge and understanding of people and their needs, we might grow a land-based culture across an entire state that leaves nobody out. Land trusts are taking innovative risks: seeing new connections, building relationships, adjusting patterns of behavior, embracing new strategies, defining new measures of success; these risks are changing the character of these land trusts and creating new opportunities.
A Man Apart: Bill Coperthwaite's Radical Experiment in Living, 2015
By Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow
On a winter morning in 2013, six people paddled the body of their close friend across a bay to a wild homestead on the coast of Maine where he would be buried in a hand-dug grave.
Among the paddling mourners were Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow.
A Man Apart is their story—part memoir and part biography—of their longtime friendship with William Coperthwaite (A Handmade Life) whose unusual life and fierce ideals helped others examine and understand their own. It is also a story about the tensions and complexities of mentorship: the opening of one’s life to someone else to learn together, and carrying on in their physical absence. A Man Apart is also a remembrance of the life, and death, of Coperthwaite—a homesteader and social critic in the lineage of Henry David Thoreau and Scott Nearing—and an account of his decades-long experiment in living on a remote stretch of Maine coast.
Plenty of people can put out their ideas for reform. A pitiful few have designed their lives to reflect their ideals as closely as possible. Bill is one of those few uncompromising souls, unblinded by convention, unsocialized, living what some would call an experimental life but proving it real for nearly fifty years. Coperthwaite lived out his ideals about society, education, and design on his Maine homestead, Dickinsons Reach, and over the years challenged and encouraged Peter and Helen to do some of the most important things they have done with their lives.
In A Man Apart the authors explore and reveal the timeless lessons of Coperthwaite’s experiment in intentional living and self-reliance, as well as describe the revelations and tensions of mentorship. Theirs is a story told through the adventure of building a home with him, Coperthwaite’s last concentric yurt—the building form for which he was best known—on a stretch of coast accessible only by boat. While mourning his death and coming to understand the real meaning of his life and how it endures in their own lives, Peter and Helen handcraft a story that reveals the importance of a life that seeks out direct experience, is drawn to beauty and simplicity, creates rather than critiques, and encourages others.
“What is a good life? The models offered by our celebrity culture are mostly shabby and shallow. To find worthier examples you need to look elsewhere—to books, for example, where you can meet Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, Barbara Kingsolver, and Wendell Berry, among others. To that lineage of American rebels you can now add Bill Coperthwaite. In this eloquent portrait, Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow document the search for integrity, wide-ranging competence, and high purpose, not only in Coperthwaite’s life, but in their own. This is a wise and beautiful book.”—Scott Russell Sanders
This is a beautifully raw account of loving grief, instructive failure, and steadfast allegiance to an utter planetary necessity: major cultural transformation.”—David James Duncan, author of The River Why and The Brothers K
Please consider purchasing a copy at your local bookstore, Chelsea Green Publishing or Amazon today. Thanks for your early support and enthusiasm!
Land Conservation and the Public Trust, 2013
co-authored by Ernie Atencio, Peter Forbes and Danyelle O'Hara
"If this work of re-imagining land conservation as being about relationship and community were easy, we would have done it long ago."
"The courage to reach for something that may not be fully attainable in the short term is always hard and always an act of leadership. And that leadership couldn’t come at a more important time for the land trust movement."
“The direct and prominent connection between wealth, class, and land conservation has been well documented in this country by generations of academics and practitioners. This information, however, is not well integrated into the story that land conservation tells about itself or the practices it uses to address these dynamics. The gap between the stories told by conservationists and those told by others who are deeply connected to and love the land impede authentic collaboration, although connection to and love for the land should unite the two groups. This is the sorrow of the conservation movement, of our nation too, and one major obstacle to creating healthy, whole communities."
"An African American forester interviewed in this project said this about the land trust movement: “We can only have conversation about what land trusts have not gotten right because of what they have got right. We can provide a nuanced critique of land trusts because they’ve been so effective.” Many folks, inside and outside the land trust movement, can see the big picture and can even name where we are today in the process. One land trust executive director said this: “It’s like medical triage; the first thing you’ve got to do is stop the bleeding, then you can take time to look at the long term, the systemic challenges that are preventing health.”
Editorial in Conservation Biology Magazine, 2011 Transforming Conservation for the 21st Century
"The enormous effects of our behavior make us the ultimate keystone species, and the implications to conservation are provocative. One cannot begin to meaningfully address loss of biological diversity or climate change without addressing human poverty, the destructive forces of the divides among races and classes, and the desire to improve one’s quality of life.
I believe that the primary challenge to conservation today is transforming our perspective from one that is primarily about biological diversity or science or even stewardship to one that also is about the making of lives that are worth living. If we do this, not only will far more people be drawn to conservation, but conservation itself will become stronger and more enduring."
A Hand Made Life: In Search of Simplicity, 2007
By William Coperthwaite, Photographs by Peter Forbes
William Coperthwaite is a teacher, builder, designer, and writer who for many years hasexplored the possibilities of true simplicity on a homestead on the north coast of Maine. In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and Helen and Scott Nearing, Coperthwaite has fashioned a livelihood of integrity and completeness-buying almost nothing, providing for his own needs, and serving as a guide and companion to hundreds of apprentices drawn to his unique way of being.
A Handmade Life carries Coperthwaite's ongoing experiments with hand tools, hand-grown and gathered food, and handmade shelter, clothing, and furnishings out into the world to challenge and inspire. His writing is both philosophical and practical, exploring themes of beauty, work, education, and design while giving instruction on the hand-crafting of the necessities of life. Richly illustrated with luminous color photographs by Peter Forbes, the book is a moving and inspirational testament to a new practice of old ways of life
Coming to Land in a Troubled World, 2004
By Peter Forbes, Kathleen Dean Moore and Scott Russell Sanders
The present rate of devastation of our natural world and of healthy lives is unprecedented, and accelerating. The work of conserving land, species, and ways of life is more urgent and vital than ever before. What does it mean to truly conserve land and community life in this era? And why is this so vitally important if we are to heal the divisions in our culture and ourselves, change our patterns of consumption, and reverse the fate of our earth?
In three powerful essays, three influential writers and thinkers--Scott Russell Sanders, Peter Forbes and Kathleen Dean Moore--explore these questions, giving us new insights about the promise of land conservation in our present world. Through its deep examination of the value of land to our culture and our souls, this book becomes a meditation on reconciliation and restoration, love and loss, wholeness and innovation, fairness and community. It gives us new approaches and new hope to work to heal the great divisions and losses we see around us each day.
The book also includes a "Land and People Index" which gives often startling statistics on the state of our world, such as the fact that America now has more malls than high schools. The index, a set of guidelines for setting one's highest values, and other tools give this reader an added dimension: as a practical and thought-provoking workbook for conservationists and social activists it offers ways to move forward with more power to effect change.
The Story Handbook: A Primer on Language and Storytelling for Land Conservationists, 2003
In The Story Handbook, contributors Tim Ahern, William Cronon, John Elder, Peter Forbes, Barry Lopez, and Scott Russell Sanders present us with the power of stories, narratives of people and places, and how those stories can advance the work of land conservation toward creating meaningful change in our culture.
As Trust for Public Land president Will Rogers writes in his introduction, "true success in our work means moving land conservation out of the ‘emergency room’ of last-ditch efforts... To do this we will need to help create a fundamental change in how our society thinks about and treats land; we will need to nurture the flowering of a new land ethic. Stories may be our best way to get there."
The Great Remembering: Further Thoughts on Land, Soul and Society, 2001
By Peter Forbes
The Great Remembering is an activist's exploration of what land means to our culture. In three chapters, "The Extinction of Experience," "Dissent and Defiance," and "Building a New Commons," the author traces the roots of our disconnection from place and from meaningful stories about our lives. He discusses what he terms the "ethics of enough"--the growing trend to slow down and place the quality of our experiences over the quantity of our possessions. It is through preserving land and rebuilding the relationship between land and people, he argues, that our culture can not only restore natural habitats, but revitalize human communities as well.
In his introduction to the book, the Trust for Public Land's president, Will Rogers, writes, "The time has come for some hard questions and new approaches to land conservation. . . the pace of development and the impact of often poorly conceived growth on the American landscape have accelerated. . . How can we rethink our work as conservationists to change how our society approaches not just land use, but also our relationship with each other, our sense of community, and our responsibilities of citizens of a rapidly shrinking world?" Whether we are conservationists or citizens concerned about the quality of our lives and landscapes, The Great Remembering helps us begin to answer these questions and to work toward restoring a vital, interdependent, whole-land community.
Trust for Public Land's companion book, Our Land, Ourselves (1999), gathered together a diverse collection of readings on the many themes of people and place. Peter Forbes' introductions to those readings suggested a new way of viewing land conservation as the process of building values and shaping human lives. In The Great Remembering, he goes a step further, arguing that land conservation has the power to transform the heart and soul of our communities and to restore a set of values to a society that is increasingly fragmented and individualistic.
Facing Change in the Whole Thinking Journal
Stretched and Ready in the Whole Thinking Journal 2010
The Circle of Story in the Whole Thinking Journal, 2009
Toward a New Relationship in Yale's Conservation Innovations Series, 2008
Building a New Movement, 2008
What is a Whole Community? 2006
To celebrate a magazine that has always championed the power of the individual, we have amassed what we believe to be the greatest ever collection of business essayists—100 entrepreneurs, visionaries and prophets of capitalism who have shaped the past century. And we’ve complemented this A-to-Z encyclopedia of ideas with the greatest ever portrait portfolio in business history, all taken by the amazing Martin Schoeller, who literally traveled around the world for it. The result is a visual time capsule and master class in entrepreneurial thinking conveyed in 100 anecdotes, lessons and ideas.
While Forbes prides itself on quantifiable lists – the richest, the biggest, the highest – assembling a list of the 100 greatest business living minds is inherently subjective. More than a dozen editors met dozens of times over two years, winnowing an initial roster more than three times as large. In the end, we opted for doers over theoreticians, disruptive entrepreneurs over those that inherit or CEOs that maintain. We sought people who had either created something with a lasting impact on the world or innovated in a way that transcends their given field. We also required that the honorees actively participate in the project – all these essays are original, wisdom from the sages themselves.
While the advice is tailored to the future, this list reflects, to a large degree, the achievements of the past, for both Forbes and the greater business world. It was the American century, and our roots and readership lean that way. It was also a period that skewed older and whiter and male.
That said, change is coming: Twenty three people on the list are nonwhite. Twenty five are not American, including 11 from Asia, the world’s most dynamic business region. Ten are women, and 11 are under 50. When someone reads the 200th anniversary issue of Forbes, I expect all these numbers will increase substantially.
Such dynamism is the magazine’s lifeblood – it’s what makes Forbes as relevant now as it was in 1917.
- Randall Lane, Editor, Forbes Magazine
IMMIGRANT, RURAL JOBS CREATOR, BILLIONAIRE: FOUNDER, CHOBANI YOGURT
The poet Rumi wrote, “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” When I started Chobani, I’d never run a company before and there was no plan. But one thing I saw that could be fixed easily was the factory’s old walls: They badly needed a paint job. So I bought some paint, and our first five employees and I all got to work. It was the first and best decision I ever made. There’s something magical in the movement, in the action – it allows you to think, to discover new ideas and to feel like you’re making progress. So don’t sit around waiting – act.
You cannot do everything alone – especially when you get to a certain level. It is impossible. I had to rely on myself and trust my decisions when it came to building Chobani – and today I still do. But we’re a team made up of a lot of people who I’d trust with my life.
PURPOSE-DRIVEN ROCK STAR: LEAD SINGER, U2; CO-FOUNDER, ONE, (RED), ELEVATION PARTNERS, RISE FUND
Capitalism is not immoral, but it is amoral. And it requires our instruction. It’s a wild beast that needs to be tamed, a better servant than master. That’s my philosophy with (RED), which partners with corporations to direct profits to fighting HIV/AIDS. The idea really came about after meeting with former Treasury secretary Bob Rubin, where he said, “You have to tell Americans the scale of the problem and what they can do about it. And you have to go about that like Nike does: They spend $50 million on ad campaigns.” And I said, “Well, where are we going to get that kind of money?” And he said, “You’re clever. You’ll figure it out.”
And we did. I realized that going to big companies and trying to break into their more modest philanthropy funds was a huge missed opportunity. It was their robust marketing and publicity budgets that we needed. Think of the creative minds in those departments – the messaging is the most important thing in keeping an issue “hot”, making it relevant. Fighting HIV is very difficult. Activists often demonize the corporate world. It’s easy to do, but I think it’s just foolishness to not recognize the creativity that you can unlock in the corporate world, together with the entertainment world. (RED) has so far generated nearly $500 million for the fight against AIDS, but the heat (RED) companies have created has also helped pressure governments to do their part – and that’s where the big money is, with donor governments spending $87.5 billion on HIV/AIDS since 2002. That’s the reason we all do this!
Some of the most selfish people I’ve met are artists – I’m one of them – and some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met are in business, people like Warren Buffett. So, I’ve never had that clichéd view of commerce and culture being different. I always remember Björk saying to me that her songs, she feels, are like carpentry. Like her friends in Iceland, one of them designs a chair. Is that more beautiful or useful than a song? Well, it depends on the chair. Or the song. I’ve always seen what I do as an activist, as an artist, as an investor, as coming from the same place.
Great melodies have a lot in common with great ideas. They’re instantly memorable. There’s a certain inevitability. There’s a sort of beautiful arc. Whether it’s a song or business or a solution to a problem facing the world’s poor, I see what I do as the same thing. I look for the topline melody, a clear thought. Now, my friends – and sometimes my bandmates and sometimes my family – would see this as multiple personality disorder. But for me, it’s all the same thing.
Artificial intelligence by…
DORM-ROOM LEGEND: FOUNDER, DELL TECHNOLOGIES
The Computer Age is just beginning. Most companies today have about a thousand times more data than they actually use to make better decisions. When you overlay the latest in computer science – AI, machine learning, deep learning, unsupervised learning – you will create an explosion of opportunity and also a real emergency. Over the next few years, as the cost of making something intelligent approaches zero, companies will succeed and fail based on their ability to translate data, including historical data, into insights and actions and products and services in real time. We like to think of ourselves as a company with big ears: We listen, we learn, we understand – and we create things.
READ MORE: Battling Giants
MASTER DEALMAKER: FOUNDER, SOFTBANK
When I was 19 years old, I saw a photo of a microprocessor in a science magazine for the first time. It was just a tiny chip that could fit on a fingertip but represented an entire computer. “Oh my God,” I said to myself, “this is going to change mankind’s life. This is the biggest invention that mankind ever created.” And I start crying on the street. Those microprocessors were compacted into PCs, then linked together to create the internet and later smartphones. Now they are extending our knowledge and intelligence via artificial intelligence.
The industrial revolution transformed people’s lives from the roots. But the information revolution is not just an extension of human capabilities but an extension of our brain cells. In a sense, our brains are more important than our arms and legs. This superintelligence will bring about developments we’ve never seen before and contribute to humanity.
Every morning I wake up and ask, Where am I? I don’t know where I am because I am jumping around the world, but I don’t want to go to sleep. It’s thrilling.
ORACLE ESCAPEE: FOUNDER, SALESFORCE
We are living in the fourth industrial revolution, with advancements in robotics, genetics, stem cells, autonomous vehicles and especially artificial intelligence. All will dramatically change life itself. We need to have a beginner’s mind to think about what is happening. That idea of the beginner’s mind is the core to innovation. When you ask, What do you want and what do you dream, you’re able to ask yourself, What am I beginning? People who lose their relevance get stuck in the past because they’re no longer in the present moment.
AMERICAN TASTEMAKER, EPONYMOUS SEAL OF APPROVAL
There’s no room for sloppiness, inaccuracy or omission when you’re trying to build a relationship with a customer base. I’m very clear that everything I do is authentic, practiced and viable – and the end result is generally beautiful. I’m sure that’s the same way Steve Jobs created his products.
ASIAN CONGLOMERATOR: FOUNDER, THAI BEVERAGE
As a child, I saw my parents making preparations for their hoi tod (crispy pan-fried mussels in egg batter) store from before dawn until midnight every day, yet still made time to teach their 11 children to be diligent, responsible and grateful to those who had helped and cared for us. If I could turn back time, I would like to create a right balance in life. I think I have done better than in the past by dedicating some time to looking after my health and my quality of life. My wife always reminds me of the following truths in life: Health is your own; money belongs to others; power is temporary; and reputation is eternal. That is why I teach my children to find the right balance between working to build up business and maintaining good health.
COFFEE CZAR: EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, FORMER CEO, STARBUCKS
In 1987, we had 11 stores and 100 employees and were already speaking about the need for a business to balance profitability and benevolence. Starbucks was one of the first American companies to give part-time workers comprehensive health insurance and equity in the form of stock options.
Back then our shareholders were very angry and concerned about dilution. I convinced them that we would be more profitable, more productive, by creating these benefits. When we made college tuition free a few years ago, I explained it wasn’t charity because investing in people is how we grow. I’m still trying to build the kind of company that my father never had a chance to work for; he held lots of blue-collar jobs, and I saw firsthand what being disrespected and devalued did to him. He had no loyalty to any employer because they showed no loyalty to him.
T. Boone Pickens
RISK-TAKER: OIL WILDCATTER, HEDGE FUND MANAGER
Over the Christmas holiday, I had several strokes, and in June, I suffered a Texas-size fall that required hospitalization. I am still mentally strong, and I comprehend and process information like I did before the incident, but sometimes find myself literally at a loss for words. That’s been tough for a loudmouth like me, as I’ve always believed you can trace every problem to a lack of communication or lack of clarity in communication. Many of those who face adversity like this at 89 choose to hide it. My life has always been an open book. Some chapters of my life have been great. Others not so much. I clearly am in the fourth quarter, and the clock is ticking, and my health is in decline. Now, don’t for a minute think I’m being morbid. When you’re in the oil business like I’ve been all my life, you drill your fair share of dry holes, but you never lose your optimism. There’s a story I tell about the geologist who fell off a 10-storey building. When he blew past the fifth floor he thought to himself, “So far, so good.” That’s the way to approach life. Be the eternal optimist who is excited to see what the next decade will bring. I thrive on that, and I’m going to stick to it until the game is over.
RUSSIA’S TECH SUCCESS STORY: BILLIONAIRE FOUNDER, DST GLOBAL; INVESTED IN FACEBOOK, AIRBNB, TWITTER, ETC.
On November 21, 1783, Benjamin Franklin watched as the first manned hot-air balloon rose from the ground. A skeptic in the crowd called out, “What is the use of it?” And Franklin is said to have replied, “What is the use of a newborn child?” He had a vision of humanity not as it was but as it could be. And he understood that from each new height a new horizon comes into view. That’s what matters most. When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, my father told me if I wanted to learn about business, I had to start looking beyond my horizon, at least as far as America. Most of the better decisions I’ve made in my career came from trying to look beyond the horizon. The first was in the 90s, betting everything on the internet. I believed it would be one of the most profound advances for civilization since electricity. I built one of the biggest internet startups in Europe, then founded DST Global, an investment firm targeting internet companies worldwide. The key to our investment philosophy is to support founders, enabling progress through technology.
Four years ago, I joined with Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki to found the Breakthrough Prize, the world’s biggest award for fundamental science and mathematics. We believe these are the best tools we have for understanding the universe and advancing our civilization. Then, last year, Mark joined with me and Stephen Hawking to launch Breakthrough Starshot, the first practical attempt to reach another star. As Franklin understood, the higher we go, the wider our horizons become – and the bigger the challenge of looking beyond them. Breakthrough Starshot, if it succeeds, could set our horizon at the interstellar scale.
FINANCIAL ALCHEMIST, JUNK-BOND PRODIGY (DREXEL BURNHAM LAMBERT), WALL STREET POSTER CHILD, PHILANTHROPIST
I came of age and went into business right in the middle of these past 100 years. Two issues of Forbes had a particularly significant influence on me: the 50th anniversary issue, in 1967, and the 60th anniversary issue 10 years later. I carried the latter in a briefcase for years and reread it often.
Both issues really made me think about how financial structures changed over time and how leading companies changed. I often point out that automobiles changed the world, but in 1917, when the majority of a car’s cost was based on raw materials, the country’s largest company by far was U.S. Steel. Other top companies included International Harvester, U.S. Rubber, Anaconda Copper and Phelps Dodge – so you can see how natural resources dominated society. A century later, these resources make up only a tiny fraction of the cost of the dominant product, the microchip, whose primary economic input is the brainpower of engineers.
A century ago, the automobile was radically changing transportation and mobility. Ford Motor was the 21st largest company. By the time it went public in 1956 with what was then the largest stock sale in history, it was one of the most valuable companies in the U.S. Today its total market value is less than the annual price variation of Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Google.
Understanding how change occurs is key. By the 1970s, Singer, the sewing machine maker, was known for an unbroken record of paying dividends going back more than 100 years. But that wasn’t as relevant as the emancipation of women, which had been upending its business for years. The company didn’t understand that women were less interested in sewing than in careers.
I was in elementary school in the 1950s when Sputnik went up. That made me think about science, and I later went to Berkeley because it had so many scientific Nobel laureates. Before the 1965 Watts Riot, I thought the American Dream was achievable without regard to race. When I found that it wasn’t, I switched my major from science to business. Twenty two years later, I helped finance Reginald Lewis, the Jackie Robinson of the business world, when he bought Beatrice International Foods from Beatrice Cos. for $985 million. Finance can change the world and create millions of jobs by empowering people with ability.
Today’s growing challenge: create meaningful lives for the world’s population. We’ve accomplished the greatest achievement of mankind, the extension of life. Over 4 million years of evolution, life expectancy of early hominids and then Homo sapiens had only increased from about 20 to 31. But just since 1900, average human life expectancy worldwide has grown from 31 to over 70. Economists estimate that about half of economic growth is tied to the public health and medical research advances that underlie increased longevity.
How do you create meaningful lives for all these people, and the 1 to 2 billion more who will soon be living? What are the jobs of the future in an age of robotics, driverless trucks and other new technologies? At one point, 90% of Americans worked in agriculture, then 40% and now less than 2%. U.S. Steel was the number one company a century ago, but today the American steel industry directly employs fewer than 140,000 workers. It’s a great challenge.
Most people who build businesses are passionate about it. They stand for something. The people who worked with me believed, as I do, in the democratization of capital – an opportunity to empower talent and help job creation in America. My legacy isn’t any one asset class like junk bonds. It’s the understanding of capital structure and how best to finance companies that create jobs and drive change.
INTERNET ENABLER: COFOUNDER, AOL; VENTURE CAPITAL DISPERSER: COFOUNDER, REVOLUTION
The story of American business over the last 100 years is a story about different sectors rising and falling (and often rising again, in unanticipated ways) in different regions of the country. When Detroit was an automobile powerhouse and Pittsburgh was the steel city, Silicon Valley was just fruit orchards. As the industrial revolution peaked and the technology revolution accelerated, the role of those places changed. Today 75% of venture capital still goes to three states (California, New York and Massachusetts); half goes to California alone. As we enter the internet’s third wave, where entrepreneurs will leverage technology to disrupt major real-world sectors – like healthcare, education, financial services – start-ups will increasingly move to cities where industry expertise exists. The opportunity to grow companies that spur job creation and economic growth holds great promise for what I call these “Rise of the Rest” cities. This will lead to a more dispersed innovating economy, where jobs and wealth are created all across the country, not just on the coasts. We need to level the playing field so that everyone, everywhere, has a shot at the American dream.
BUILDER: FOUNDER, QUICKEN LOANS; OWNER, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS; DETROIT’S REVITALIZER
I have never seen anybody create a whole lot of wealth by chasing money. Ironically, those who seem to be motivated by taking a great idea and turning it into reality are the ones who end up acquiring significant wealth.
In the last few years, we have taken this philosophy a step further. We have moved the headquarters and a substantial amount of the other pieces of our flagship business, as well as other businesses we are involved with, to downtown Detroit. An all-in commitment that our mission would not only be to continue to grow our business but also to help lead the transformation and rebuilding of one of America’s most devastated urban centers.
And here is the secret sauce: We are absolutely a more profitable (and better) business because we have a mission beyond the sole pursuit of profits. The investment we make in the community with both our dollars and our team members’ time has created a culture and environment that has motivated our people to be better at their day jobs. The yin feeds the yang, and the yang feeds the yin. You will attract the best and brightest who are motivated by more than a paycheck.
The more you invest in your mission, the more profits your business will produce. We are living proof of this. Not such a bad formula, huh?
Leonardo Del Vecchio
VISION VISIONARY: FOUNDER, LUXOTTICA
One thing that hasn’t changed in my years of doing business – I’m always doing and saying what I really think, acting with clarity and transparency. I prefer to match words with deeds or let the facts speak for me. I try to be what I really am and not what people would like me to be. There is a certain peace that comes with that. My reputation is truly my own.
THE ADULT IN THE ROOM: FORMER CEO, CHAIRMAN, NOVELL; FORMER CEO, GOOGLE
In 2001, my friend and colleague John Doerr called to suggest that I get some coaching. What? I was far along in my career; I didn’t need a coach. I could be a coach. Of course, I was wrong about that. I actually needed the coach.
We all called the late Bill Campbell “Coach,” and it wasn’t because of the 12-41-1 record he compiled as the head coach of the Columbia football team in the late 70s. He knew what was needed to succeed – to win – in Silicon Valley.
Bill wasn’t some far-off guru who didn’t get his hands dirty, but a coach who got on the playing field with me. He participated in board and executive meetings, developing credibility with my management team and helping us make crucial decisions. He would give advice and then make sure I lived by it. I would spend hours in his small office – whiteboards, markers, etc. – going over the “plays.” Without fail, he knew what I needed to do, and he knew how I should do it.
Bill had many tenets of leadership, but one that sticks with me, especially at this moment, is to “maintain a culture of respect.” This was essential for him – and he knew it came from the top of any organization. I worked hard to make sure that the prevailing culture at Google was one of respect above all else, as Larry and Sergey always have, and as Sundar does today. Like much of Coach’s advice, this one continues to resonate. I miss my coach.
READ MORE: African Start-Ups Boosted By Google Launchpad Accelerator
KING OF THE HEDGE FUND MANAGERS: FOUNDER, BRIDGEWATER ASSOCIATES (WORLD’S LARGEST HEDGE FUND)
I think that the most important issue that will reshape our lives in the years ahead will be how man-made and artificial intelligence compete and work together.
My views have been colored by experiences with algorithmic decision-making over the last 30 years, which have been fabulous. But it’s a two-edged sword. I have learned that by thinking through my criteria for making decisions, writing them down as principles and then expressing them as algorithms so that the computer thinks in parallel with me, I can make much better decisions than I could make alone. It has also helped us to have an idea meritocracy that produces collective decision-making that’s much better than individual decision-making. But our path to doing this was to work with the computer to gain deep understanding.
PERPETUAL REINVENTOR: FOUNDER, SIRIUS, UNITED THERAPEUTICS; CREATOR OF PANAMSAT
Anything worthwhile in life requires teamwork, and you cannot manage what you don’t understand. My favorite thing to do at work is to walk around and talk to people. Each person is like a library of information. The more I know about a person, the better able I am to connect them to other people with synergistic interests – a leader works for those they lead. Lawrence Bell, the founder of Bell Aircraft, said that anyone unwilling to do small things should not be trusted to do big things. Running a business is a very big thing, because you are having an outsize effect on countless people’s lives. Hence, when I started creating organ-manufacturing technology, I practiced suturing arteries.
I find it awe-inspiring that there are an infinite number of ways to improve the world through business. Providing better products and services, or less expensive ones, or more accessible ones, all makes people happier. That’s what it’s all about.
CORPORATE RAIDER/ACTIVIST INVESTOR: FOUNDER, ICAHN ENTERPRISES
Sometimes the best way to make money is when most people say you are wrong and nuts. It’s not easy to do, but it’s like in the Rudyard Kipling poem: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.” If you have the emotional makeup (you can develop it), you don’t care what the experts are saying.
You need to do a lot of work to be contrarian and you need to have the strength – you can’t just be a contrarian to be contrarian. For example, when we had the junk bond crash of 1989, for a few days I was literally almost the only one buying – even though it took a few years, we made a fortune on them. I believed the risk-reward ratio was greatly in my favor because I felt I was buying companies, not bonds.
You are not always right, and it sometimes takes a long time to prove it out. A lot of the time you are early. (I really believe today, for example, that this market is going to have a crisis, some major corrections, so I have been hedged.) People thought I was crazy when I bought the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas out of bankruptcy. It was in the north end of the Strip – at the time, a part of town as bad as a Third World country. Then I bought all the homes around the Stratosphere. Even the people in Las Vegas and at the hotel told me I was crazy. But it was the fact that I bought the shacks and the 24 acres next to the Stratosphere that made the hotel very attractive. Goldman Sachs ended up buying the Stratosphere from me, and we made about $1 billion.
It’s not easy, but something inside you goes click. That’s what I enjoy.
READ MORE: How Carl Icahn Made $1.4 Billion Playing The Booms And Busts Of Las Vegas
MALL STORE JUGGERNAUT: VISIONARY FOR THE LIMITED (VICTORIA’S SECRET, PINK, BATH & BODY WORKS, ETC.)
Back when I had just a few stores, I made a cold call to the office of John Galbreath, who was probably the most successful guy in Ohio at the time. He was a big international real estate developer, but he also owned the Pittsburgh Pirates and had a private airport outside of Columbus, where the queen of England once flew in to talk to him about Thoroughbred horse breeding.
I introduced myself over the phone, and he invited me to his office. We talked for about an hour. What I really wanted to know was how he had gone from being a kid on a farm to a friend of the queen of England. He told me that the key was just to be curious and pursue various interests. Riding down the elevator, I remember sort of shaking my head and thinking to myself, what a load of crap. Here I had come for wisdom, and he just tells me to be curious.
And yet, I have continued to reflect on that conversation in the 40 years since then. Curiosity led me to see if I could replicate building one successful retail brand into creating several. I ended up building Victoria’s Secret, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch and Bath & Body Works. Curiosity made me wonder if I could have success in picking the right garments for stores. Would I have an eye for picking out artwork? I eventually selected a collection centered on Pablo Picasso. If I was a leader in my business and industry, could I become a leader in my community, too? I now devote 10% to 20% of my time to improving my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Curiosity has kept me young as I have gotten older. Now, nearly a half century after I walked into Galbreath’s office, I’m still curious to see what’s next.
Customer service by…
Sean “Diddy” Combs
HIP-HOP MOGUL (BAD BOY); FASHION MOGUL (SEAN JOHN); LIQUOR MOGUL (CIROC)
I started my business career at age 12, delivering newspapers. I had a lot of elderly customers, so I would always put the newspaper in between the screen door and the door – that caring made me different, made me better than the last paperboy. Since then, I’ve always understood that if I give the customers my best and service them differently, whether music, clothing or vodka, I’ll get a return on my hard work.
READ MORE: The World’s Highest Paid Hip-Hop Artists 2017
THE MONEYBALL MAN: OAKLAND A’S EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
In sports, you’re not allowed to just survive. People cheer for teams that win. And it’s a zero-sum game. You don’t get partial credit for losing. I never doubted the Moneyball approach. We had two choices – intuition or data. Before, it seemed like we were making decisions on a roulette wheel, and when we were correct we celebrated the good guesses and applied some sort of clairvoyance to it, as opposed to just pure luck and random outcome.
So instead, we were very rational, logical and fact-based. What was interesting was the resistance. When we applied data to decision making and relied on objective reasoning, it was held to a perfect standard. If it was not correct 100% of the time, the response was “I told you that number s–t doesn’t work.” But it did work. And then we had to evolve again. As soon as you think you’ve completely figured it out, you’re probably in trouble. Every business is a living document, an algorithm that needs to be improved.
In my fourth year at the University of Southern California, the teacher from my professional practice class came up to me in the courtyard one day and said, “Frank, I’ve been watching you, and I think you’re a talented guy who’s going to go somewhere. I just want to give you one word of advice: No matter how small a project you work on, and no matter what it is, put your heart and soul and sense of responsibility into it, and don’t dismiss anything.” He said it very clearly and lovingly, and I never forgot it and I’ve lived by it.
Due diligence by…
RAGS TO (BILLION-DOLLAR) RICHES: FOUNDER, CEO, SPANX
In the early days of Spanx, I didn’t vet the manufacturer helping me make our first product, footless pantyhose. They went out of business and gave me one week’s notice. It almost put Spanx under. Had I done any kind of financial due diligence on them, I would have been able to prevent that. Early-stage entrepreneurs shouldn’t forget about that layer. It almost stopped everything for me.
READ MORE: The Women Who Lead The World
TECH TRAILBLAZER: WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP CHAMPION; COO, FACEBOOK
Driving to work on my first day back after maternity leave, I cried the entire way there. I wanted to work, but leaving my son at home was hard. To be able to see him, I started finding ways to come in later and leave earlier.
Years later I mentioned in an interview that I left work at 5:30. The response was overwhelmingly positive. That’s when I realized that we are better employees when we stop trying to be two people and bring our whole selves to work. That doesn’t mean working around the clock. It means sharing what you are going through so that other people can empathize and help you.
When I lost my husband Dave two years ago, I learned this lesson even more deeply. Dave was a true partner at home and at work and taught me the value of peer mentorship. When I was talking to Mark about joining Facebook, Dave told me not to work out the substance in advance but rather to agree on the process. His point was that the substance would change but our working relationship was the single most important thing to get right. We agreed to sit together, giving each other feedback every week one-on-one. Nine years later, I often smile when I remember how Dave’s advice set us up for success.
So bringing my full self to work meant being openly sad. The way colleagues supported me drove home the need for better policies for bereavement and sick leave. Taking care of people when they need it most is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
THE DECODER: FOUNDER, CELERA GENOMICS; HUMAN GENOME SEQUENCER; CHAIRMAN, HUMAN LONGEVITY INC. AND SYNTHETIC GENOMICS INC.
Timing is everything in science, like it is in most things in life. In 1944 Oswald Avery did the experiment proving DNA was how traits are inherited. But he didn’t get the Nobel Prize because everybody wanted to believe proteins were the genetic material. I’ve been lucky. I nearly flunked out of high school, and I decided not to go to college even though I had a swimming scholarship. I ended up in Vietnam. After, I had to start my education over from scratch. I had this English teacher, Bruce Cameron. We became lifelong friends. If it weren’t for him, I would not have survived the first semester of community college. He taught me to ignore the assignment and write what I wanted. I ended up getting my Ph.D. in just three years. I learned that most people fail in science because they talk themselves out of doing the experiment. Ideas are a dime a dozen. What makes the difference is the execution of the idea. That taught me to recognize when it was time to adopt new technologies to understand genetics and then even to sequence the human genome. Once, I was too early: I started trying to create synthetic life a decade before the world was ready for it. But it’s ready now.
ULTIMATE TASTEMAKER: FOUNDER, LUXURY-GOODS CONGLOMERATE LVMH
The success of LVMH is built on creativity, quality, entrepreneurship and, most importantly, long-term vision. For instance, I remember the first time I visited China, in 1991. I arrived in Beijing – I saw no cars, only bicycles, no tall buildings. The GDP was 4% of what it is today. Nonetheless, we decided to open our first Louis Vuitton store in China. Today Louis Vuitton is the number one luxury brand in the country and across the world. We have been seeing for the past 25 years a growing desire for high-quality products and an acceleration of buying power. Nowadays, the internet makes the planet much smaller. Product launches now need to be global in order to be successful. When you start something today, you usually have to start it all over the world at the same time to be successful, and you can see what’s going on anywhere, instantly. That requires higher investment – which gives us an advantage. Creating increasingly desirable new products and selling them worldwide is what LVMH does best.
HEDGE FUND GODFATHER: FOUNDER, TIGER MANAGEMENT
Do you know what the most desirable job was at the beginning of my career, in the 1950s? Advertising. All the hotshots went into advertising. Investment banks? They were begging for people. I was interested in stocks from an early age, so I really wanted to go into investment banking. The fancy way in was to go to business school and then get into the investment banking department of one of the firms, but I started as a stockbroker. Today, people wonder why hedge funds aren’t doing better – I think it is from increasing competition from other hedge funds. If I were starting out now, I would look at what the competition is like in various fields – and then consider some that aren’t so popular.
WORLD BUILDER: CHAIRMAN, CEO, ARCELORMITTAL, THE LARGEST STEELMAKER ON EARTH
Steel is one of the most used materials in the world today, but that doesn’t mean in the future there won’t be a different way of making steel or that other, new materials won’t be developed that challenge steel’s position. The pace of technological change is significantly faster than historically – every industry today has to fight complacency, prepare to see the disruption coming and then be flexible enough to adapt swiftly.
IRON MAN: ALPHA ENTREPRENEUR; COFOUNDER, PAYPAL, TESLA, SPACEX
Artificial intelligence will provide many societal benefits, including self-driving cars and improved medical diagnostics. However, with AI we may be summoning the demon and could create an existential risk to humanity. If a digital superintelligence were inadvertently optimized to do something detrimental to humanity, this could have catastrophic consequences. It could be something like directing the AI to get rid of spam, and it concludes the best way to get rid of spam is to get rid of humans. Or a financial program decides the best way to make money is to increase the value of defense stocks by starting a war. We’re the first species capable of self-annihilation, and it’s extremely likely, given enough time. The question: Can we get ahead of it? We need to learn as much as possible and should create a government agency to regulate AI. Ultimately the private sector will have to take the lead in building safe and useful technology that benefits humanity.
READ MORE: Elon Musk’s Net Worth Eclipses $20 Billion For The First Time
THE WORLD OVERNIGHT: FOUNDER, FEDEX
Everything was going as planned in the early days of FedEx, until the Arab oil embargo hit in 1973. Suddenly our costs spiked and our cash evaporated. Right around then I went out to Vegas with this high roller I knew. We went to the casino and he got me a line of credit.
I knew how to play blackjack from my days in Vietnam. It was a horrible war with a bad strategy and terrible consequences, but I met some great people and played a lot of cards. The odds in blackjack actually aren’t that bad if you know how to bet. The problem is most people get chicken and pull their money off the table exactly when they ought to be doubling down. I didn’t have that problem. I won $27,000 and wired it back to the company.
The myth says that money alone saved FedEx. The truth is that we owed so much damn money, $27,000 didn’t make much of a difference on the balance sheet. But it lifted our confidence at a time that we needed it. No business school graduate would recommend gambling as a financial strategy, but sometimes it pays to be a little crazy early in your career.
Golden rule by…
John Paul DeJoria
SELF-MADE BILLIONAIRE—TWICE: CO-FOUNDER, JOHN PAUL MITCHELL SYSTEMS; COFOUNDER, PATRÓN TEQUILA
There’s turnover of staff and then there’s efficiency of staff. Companies sometimes hire 10 people to do the job of three. What’s the answer to it all? It’s a basic thing that goes back to the law to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Treat and pay your staff exactly the way you’d want to be treated if you were in their place.
Now, how does this work? John Paul Mitchell Systems is in almost 100 countries. We’ve been around for 37 years. My turnover is less than 100 people. Only two people have even retired from our company. They don’t want to. They’re having such a good time.
Someone once asked Francisco Alcaraz, the genius distiller creating all of our formulas for Patrón, “What is the secret? Why is Patrón so good? Why do people keep coming back?” He says, “The secret’s very easy. It’s called love. We are all treated so well, we love what we’re doing. We never want to leave. We want every bottle to be reflective of us.”
With Patrón, 53 people touch every single bottle; that’s a lot of hands-on work, and they’re all loved. If you work for me during the day shift, you get a free lunch by chefs. If you work for me at night during the night shift, you get a free lunch and dinner by chefs. You want to pray during the day? We built a chapel right in the middle of the 17th-century Spanish-French hacienda.
In all the businesses we’re involved in it’s the exact same way. If you love your people and let them know you’re giving back, not just hoarding all the money for yourself, they want to join in.
David M. Rubenstein
WASHINGTON’S FINANCIER: COFOUNDER, CO-CEO, THE CARLYLE GROUP
Thomas Jefferson famously said that the country is, to some extent, about the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, over the next 50 years of his life he never defined what happiness was. Personal happiness might be the most elusive thing in life. In my own case, personal happiness came about much more from giving away my money than from earning it. I use what I call the “mother test.” If your mother calls you and tells you that she is proud of what you are doing, that’s probably a good indication that you are on the road to happiness. My mother used to call much more when I was giving away my money than when I was making it.
SURVIVOR: COFOUNDER, MICROSOFT; INVESTOR AND PHILANTHROPIST (VULCAN); SPORTS TEAM OWNER; BRAIN SCIENCE BENEFACTOR
We are about to enter the era of deep medicine, where we understand cell pathways and how to change them. I’m a two-time cancer survivor. First I had Hodgkin’s, a young person’s cancer. And then non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Right now they just hit you with everything they’ve got, like carpet bombing. And then my mother passed away of Alzheimer’s. Those things are motivating experiences that make you want to understand things better and then make a difference. In maybe 20 or 30 years, we will use things like stem cells to change disease outcomes – your own immune system, designed by evolution, to attack sick cells and things like that. It seems inconceivable now – we have thousands of types of cells, so there are trillions of combinations – but healthcare would be much more personal. And the costs will potentially decline.
COMPUTER INSIDER: FOUNDER, TAIWAN SEMICONDUCTOR
My values are: integrity, commitment, innovation and trust from customers. Integrity means honesty and willingness to fulfill a promise, even at high cost. Commitment means dedication and loyalty to a task or an organization. Innovation means change. Trust from customers of course has to be earned, and I try to earn it by integrity and commitment.
J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr.
AMERICA’S HOTELIER: CHAIRMAN, MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL
I learned what may be the single biggest factor in our success the hard way, when I was in the Navy. I was assigned to be the wardroom officer on an aircraft carrier, and I had a bunch of stewards doing the food preparation. They were enlisted men who were World War II veterans because this was back in the early 1950s. I had new recipe cards that I thought would improve the quality of the food. I gave them an order to follow the cards. And they just gave me this glassy stare and said, “We ain’t following them,” and I didn’t know what to do, so I let them do their own thing. I realized that I didn’t get their buy-in. I didn’t sit down with them and say, I think we can improve the quality of the food if you follow these recipes.
The four most important words in business are “What do you think?” And that’s why I would visit over 200 hotels a year to meet with our associates. You can talk about all the technology, distribution and other things that are taking place. If you take good care of your associates, they’ll take good care of the customers and the customers will come back. We’re in the people business. We don’t manufacture anything. We just take care of our guests.
BUILDER: COFOUNDER, HOME DEPOT; OWNER, ATLANTA FALCONS
When I was running Home Depot, I’d always stop the customers who walked out of our stores with nothing. They were the ones who taught us the most. Odds were, they didn’t come to Home Depot just to walk around. They came because they wanted to buy something. And somehow, we had let them down. Wrong stuff, wrong price, bad service – something. They would tell us what the issue was, and then we would just go in and fix the problem.
I took the same approach after buying the Atlanta Falcons. At the time, 40% of our stadium was empty. Our players needed a full house of our fans, but half of the people who came to games were rooting for the other team. So I went around the city asking people why they weren’t buying tickets. I didn’t ask Falcons employees – they had been trying to get people into the stadium since 1966, and they hadn’t figured it out yet. I asked everyone else I met. Why don’t you come to the Georgia Dome? They always had some explanation. We made a list of the problems and then fixed them. This is my 15th year as an owner, and we’ve sold out every game except for two.
Business isn’t all that complicated. If someone is out in the desert walking around, they’re going to be thirsty. You just have to ask them what they want to drink. If you have the humility to listen to other people rather than just hawking stuff, you’re going to have a lot of customers. Too many businesspeople have big egos and aren’t willing to ask.
VISIONARY: FOUNDER, ARMANI
I always try to maintain a sense of reality and ensure that I surround myself with the right people, who understand the times in which we live. In this line of work, my team is crucial. I’m the one who decides, but I like having lots of other people with whom I can discuss ideas, as this helps with the creative process. In the world of fashion, five years is already a hundred, so going forward, the challenge will be to capture the attention of a public that is increasingly stimulated by countless offers and new forms of communication.
Industry shifts by…
CONNECTOR: RAILROADS, QWEST, ENTERTAINMENT
I’ve always been intellectually curious. I like to research how and why things are, and imagine how they might change. Specifically, I look for industries in transition and try to anticipate opportunities that could arise from changes in underlying fundamentals. So far I’ve had decent timing when it comes to certain businesses, such as energy, railroads and telecom. Deregulation changed the railroad and telephone industries. When I was running Southern Pacific, we realized that railroad rights-of-way were perfect paths to lay fiber-optic cables. So we started Qwest to lay important portions of the early backbone of the internet. I got a little nervous when Qwest had over $1 billion of fiber in the ground and no customers, but it wasn’t long before we went from selling voice by the minute to selling data by the gigabyte. With the rise of the digital world, I believed demand would grow for live analog entertainment like sports and music, so we started building and acquiring more than 100 unique venues, like the L.A. Staples Center and the O2 London, along with music, entertainment and teams to play in them like the Kings, Lakers and Galaxy. While the underlying concept was developing well-located real estate, the critical strategy was content.
A sector about to undergo transformational change is the power industry, driven in part by the rise of renewable clean energy, which has the potential to drive change, much like the advent of fiber optics drove change within the telephone business. I’m currently building what could be America’s biggest wind farm.
Not everything of course always works as anticipated, but it helps to get into the habit of being curious and developing a willingness to accept the concept of risk.
AGENT OF DISRUPTION: NAPSTER COFOUNDER, FACEBOOK’S FIRST PRESIDENT, SPOTIFY EVANGELIST
I’ve been involved in the start of many innovative ideas and companies, not because they were fashionable at the time but because they appealed to my sense of intellectual curiosity. Just as experts in the record industry couldn’t accept that music on the internet would ever go mainstream, or that social media would ever be used by adults rather than college kids, I have always chosen to ignore the conventional wisdom in favor of the ideas that interested me. Inventing the future starts with intellectual curiosity – along with a healthy dose of skepticism. You need enough curiosity to “deep dive” into the ideas that interest you. And enough skepticism to second-guess everything you think you know and everything the so-called experts want you to believe.
We’re living at a unique moment in history, where everyone on the internet who has a knack for Googling can access more information than any university could ever teach. About a decade ago I became interested in the emerging field of cancer immunotherapy. The data was compelling, even though the field had been written off by famous oncologists. But with little more than the internet at my disposal, I was able to learn enough about the field to be dangerous. I got involved in funding clinical trials for drugs that would ultimately treat blood cancers and melanoma. In a few short years the field of immunotherapy had produced several billion-dollar companies, FDA approved drugs and breakthroughs that helped patients where conventional treatments had failed. I launched a non-profit institute dedicated to the field, assembling a dream team of scientists around a $250 million bet that the next generation of immunotherapy treatments would treat an even larger number of patients. While engineering T cells to fight cancer may seem very different from writing software to give away free music, the instincts that led me to each of these projects haven’t changed a bit.
SHOWMAN: BILLIONAIRE COFOUNDER, CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
I came up in Montreal as a street performer – a fire-breather, literally. I lived in the streets for almost 10 years, by choice. And the streets have their own rules. Sometimes, you have a fraction of a second to evaluate, when you first meet somebody, whether they might stab you or become your friend. The things I learned in the street about reading and feeling people and believing my intuition proved very important in my business life. If I was entering a meeting, I was able to stand and scan people and feel them immediately as what they were, instead of discovering weeks later, when it was too late.
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AMERICA’S MONEY MANAGER: FORMER PORTFOLIO MANAGER, MAGELLAN FUND
My biggest mistake was that I always sold stocks way too early. In fact, I got a call from Warren Buffett in 1989. My daughter picks up the phone and says, “It’s Mr. Buffett on the line.” And I thought some of my buddies are kidding me because she was only six. And I pick up the phone, and I hear, “This is Warren Buffett from Omaha, Nebraska.” You know, he talks so fast. “And I love your book, One Up on Wall Street, and I want to use a line from it in my year-end report. I have to have it. Can I please use it?” I said, “Sure. What’s the line?” He says, “Selling your winners and holding your losers is like cutting the flowers and watering the weeds.”
That one line that he picked in my whole book has been my greatest mistake. I visited the first four Home Depots ever built. I sold that stock after it tripled, and then it went up another fiftyfold. If you’re great in this business you’re right six times out of ten. But the times you’re right, if you make a triple or ten-bagger, it overcomes your mistakes. So you have to find the big winners. I sold way too early on Home Depot. I sold too early on Dunkin’ Donuts. Why did I do that? I was dumb. With great companies the passage of time is a major positive.
THE ORACLE: CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY; ARGUABLY THE GREATEST INVESTOR AND BIGGEST PHILANTHROPIST OF ALL TIME
When I was 7 or 8 years old, I was lucky in that I found a subject that really interested me – investing. I read every book on that topic in the Omaha Public Library by the time I was 11. Some of them more than once. My dad happened to be in the investment business, so when I would go down to have lunch with him on Saturdays, or whenever it might be, I would pick up the books around his office and start reading. (If he’d been a shoe salesman, I might be a shoe salesman now.)
I bought the book that became the largest influence on my investing life by accident, while I was at the University of Nebraska. I read and reread The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham, about half a dozen times – it’s incredibly sound philosophically, very well written and easy to understand. And it gave me an investment philosophy that I’m still using today.
That strategy is to find a good business – and one that I can understand why it’s good – with a durable, competitive advantage, run by able and honest people, and available at a price that makes sense. Because we’re not going to sell the business, we don’t need something with earnings that go up the next month or the next quarter; we need something that will earn more money 10 and 20 and 30 years from now. And then we want a management team we admire and trust.
My favorite investment, one that embodies this philosophy, is Geico, which I learned about when I was 20 years old, because I got on a train and went down to Washington and banged on the door on a Saturday until Lorimer Davidson, who would later become CEO, responded. He answered my questions, taught me the insurance business and explained to me the competitive advantage that Geico had. That afternoon changed my life.
Here’s a product that now costs, on average, about $1,800 a year. People don’t want to buy it – but they do want to drive. And they hope they never use it, because they don’t want to have an accident. And Geico was a way to deliver that product for less money than people had been paying. When Berkshire bought control of it in 1995, it had about a 2% market share; now it has a 12% market share, and we are saving the American public perhaps $4 billion a year against what they would be paying if they had bought insurance the way they had before. A simple idea when Leo Goodwin founded the company in 1936. The same simple idea now.
Ben Franklin said it a long time ago: “Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee.” The quaint language aside, it means don’t just satisfy your customers – delight them. They’re gonna talk to other people. They’re going to come back. Anybody who has happy customers is likely to have a pretty good future.
But ultimately, there’s one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself. Address whatever you feel your weaknesses are, and do it now. I was terrified of public speaking when I was young. I couldn’t do it. It cost me $100 to take a Dale Carnegie course, and it changed my life. I got so confident about my new ability, I proposed to my wife during the middle of the course. It also helped me sell stocks in Omaha, despite being 21 and looking even younger. Nobody can take away what you’ve got in yourself – and everybody has potential they haven’t used yet. If you can increase your potential 10%, 20% or 30% by enhancing your talents, they can’t tax it away. Inflation can’t take it from you. You have it the rest of your life.
READ MORE: Forbes 400 – Meet The Richest People In America
DATA PIONEER (EDS, PEROT SYSTEMS); ORIGINAL POPULIST-BUSINESSMAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Believe in big ideas. In 1962 I was IBM’s biggest salesman for those giant mainframe computers. I tried to convince IBM we were missing an opportunity, that in addition to selling the computers, we ought to sell services, too – as in help our customers learn how to use their new machines. But IBM wasn’t interested, and my big idea nearly died right there. That week I went to get my hair cut, and while flipping through a Reader’s Digest I came across a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” That wasn’t for me. It was at that moment that I decided to go it alone, to start my own company, Electronic Data Systems. After 70 sales calls I finally landed my first customer. Two decades later, after I had sold EDS to General Motors, I got into the business of backing the next generation of entrepreneurs. I recognized a little bit of myself in 1986 when I put up $20 million to seed Steve Jobs at NeXT Computer, which he eventually sold to Apple Computer. He believed in big ideas, too.
Keep ‘em honest by…
THE PICASSO OF ART DEALERS
There was a painting that Si Newhouse wanted to buy in the early 1980s – “Aloha” by Roy Lichtenstein. I had sold several paintings from that collection to him, and this Lichtenstein was $1 million. Only a handful of paintings had sold for $1 million at that time. So I said, “Let’s write them a check.” And Si, who is a billionaire, said, “No, I’m not going to write a check for $1 million. Let’s pay them $100,000 a month.” And when I asked him why, he said, “I don’t want them to think that money comes that easily.” If he were willing to write a check right away, he explained, it would influence the negotiation. It was a shrewd lesson, especially since “Aloha” would later become worth well over $100 million.
CHINA’S PREEMINENT VENTURE CAPITALIST
Our business changes so quickly that one must continuously go through learning curves to stay relevant. A part of learning is done through reading, and the other part, which is likely more important, is talking with bright minds from different fields – scientists, writers, policymakers, philosophers, etc. Such engagement helps you get many new perspectives on life and the world.
We are in the business of helping entrepreneurs build the very best companies in the world, mostly in the technology space. I do not think we will be replaced by AI. This business oftentimes is more like art than science.
We might have to live with an easy monetary policy environment on a global basis for a very long period of time to come. How to consistently create value and generate alpha, with this backdrop, is the real challenge.