The business of business is, uh, business
This morning, we were sitting around eating bowls of Cap’n Crunch and drinking coffee and talking about wacky business ideas, or what’s the wackiest business idea you ever had. Now, it wouldn’t be fair or ethical for me to divulge other people’s business ideas on my blog, so I won’t.
I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head, except that I used to think that if I had a spare billion dollars, I would buy four or nine contiguous blocks in the center city, and I would build a giant replica of one of the “Stalin’s wedding cake” buildings that was twice the height of anything else in town, as a ridiculous monument to my then-massive ego. The beauty, or lack of it, of those Soviet wedding-cake monstrosities is that they managed to combine some of the more frighteningly gothic design aspects of New York’s Woolworth Building and Salt Lake City’s LDS Temple with scary things you can do with concrete and stone. Of course, I’d top it with a huge illuminated red hammer and sickle encircled by a laurel, just to make the local right-wingers apoplectic.
I no longer think like that. Well, occasionally I like to think that a giant, 50-story illuminated hologram of Venus emerging from the half shell in oceanic froth a la Sandro Botticelli might be a nifty little art project to throw at people once in a while, but a permanent eyesore, like an ugly building that dominates the local landscape, is just flat-out unkind. Besides, we already have enough of those, don’t we?
Anyway, once around 30 years ago I had a job working for this guy, and he used to have bull sessions after work with a couple of buddies, one of whom was a Texan named Jim who was chairman of the local Republican Party. This was still at the beginning of the original Reagan-era groundswell of populist uprising, when evangelical churches started organizing to foist their own “pro-life and family values” candidates into central committees and offices, so the local GOP politburos weren’t all run yet by people who held everyone to Bible-based litmus tests; the cigar-loving, single malt-swilling free-market business cowboys still held sway.
I loved shooting the breeze with those guys, because sometimes their ideas were hilariously off the wall. My favorite came one evening when Jim let us in on one of his brainstorms: “Heroes of Business” trading cards. “You know, for the kids,” he’d enthuse. Figuring that children might get off on trading, oh, a Ken Lay and a Charles and David Koch for a Lloyd Blankfein, a Maurice Greenberg and a bankster to be named later, Jim thought that business executives should be accorded similar status to baseball players in the imaginations of young lads, and it might make business cool again.
And for geeks, the stats on the back of the cards might be pretty interesting. What metrics would you use? Annual salary, net worth, gross profit of company are obvious, but what more arcane statistics could you put?
Business indeed got cool there for a time, as salaries for sports stars and the big swinging sausages of industry rose into the stratosphere, and business executives became celebrities in their own right, and guys like Tyco International’s Dennis Kozlowski began throwing Caligula-worthy parties to celebrate their personal awesomeness. Although today, if you’re going to throw a fete that rocks a Roman Empire vibe, it’s probably best to do it a bit under the radar, so to speak, because the aesthetics of The New Austerity might clash with that. Oh, what am I saying? The überrich don’t give a damn what you or I think; they’re going to fly 747-loads of revelers to Morocco to unhinge like bloodthirsty Huns if that’s what they feel like doing.
And even with the misadventures of the banksters and postmillenial robber barons and their fellow travelers, I still think business is cool, albeit for different reasons. No, not for giant corporations that swallow other corporations and ravage lives and trash economies, or that finance politicians that tilt the playing field to their advantage. But businesses, small businesses that arise from the ground level, in garages or small shops or in coworking spaces, can be tremendous fountains of creativity, and out of that creativity can come a lot of pretty cool stuff.
Hmm. Maybe time for a “Heroes of Entreprenurial Business” card edition for the iPad? —Jackson Griffith