This month, we asked our members: Who are the all-time best entrepreneurs and why? Below are a few of the responses.
At first, names like Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, Warren Buffett, Ben and Jerry, and many others spring to mind. I ultimately decided that I would award this distinction to a whole group of Americans rather than one individual. I believe that the US immigrant has the distinction of being the all-time best entrepreneur. This country was built by immigrant entrepreneurs, and their track record continues to the present day. I have read that immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business then non-immigrants and in New York nearly a quarter of all business are immigrant owned.
Immigrants like my father, who has owned a thriving 30-year-old jewelry contracting firm, my uncles, and their extended family and friends arrived in New York from the former Soviet Union with no knowledge of the English language, no connections, no US college degrees, and in many cases, no transferable skills. Virtually all of these immigrants worked extremely hard raising the capital through menial jobs and started businesses in construction, jewelry, retail, hospitality services, and more.
They have had their share of adversity, economic downturns, and the growth of global competition, yet most have grown their businesses into extremely successful enterprises and have realized the American dream. I have had the benefit of learning firsthand from these entrepreneurs and the knowledge I have gained has been more useful to the growth of Net@Work than my MBA ever was.
There have been so many great entrepreneurs that I have a difficult time in picking the best. As I understand it, the traditional definition of an entrepreneur is someone who innovates in a market or business and transforms those innovations into economic goods, thus creating value where none existed before. One entrepreneur who accomplished the above in a non-traditional way, and in doing so laid the foundation for changing an entire industry and the way in which we consume and enjoy intellectual property, was Jerry Garcia. The Grateful Dead pioneered the concept of viral marketing before the internet and social media, and they encouraged the distribution and sharing of content outside of the established value chain. The way in which we consume, share, and market almost every type of media these days is based on the concepts Jerry and the Dead were using back in the 1970s.
In my opinion, Thomas Edison is the all- time best entrepreneur. As a true visionary and the world’s greatest inventor, his ideas continue to be relevant and have an impact on our everyday life. As an entrepreneur, Edison understood that his innovations had to be commercially viable in the form of products that people actually wanted and needed. In addition to Edison’s inventive genius and pragmatic approach to innovation, his productivity and tenacity set him apart as the all-time best entrepreneur as epitomized by his famous quote, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” To me, this exemplifies the essence of what it means to be an all-time successful entrepreneur.
My current entrepreneurial hero is John Mackey of Whole Foods. While there are very few entrepreneurs I don’t admire, he is certainly my fave.
Mackey dropped out of the University of Texas in 1977 as a sandal-wearing, poverty stricken, socialistic hippie, and worked as a busboy, bartender, waiter, and assistant manager of a health food store with nothing but loathing for the idea of the business life—and became a self-made man and committed capitalist. He is my kind of entrepreneur because he very consciously has grasped the great truth that money is not the primary motivator for himself and most true entrepreneurs. Meaning is. Freedom is. He passionately lives his business as a source of purpose and mission. He has created not only a great company, but also a deep sense of freedom, integrity, and dynamic becoming.
Daria Meoli is the Executive Editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at email@example.com