But here’s the deal: I grew up as a musician and a writer, in a family of artists. Alongside them, I always stood back and regarded businesspeople curiously, wondering what on Earth they found so interesting about business. It didn’t help that I was a teenager in the 1970s, which was really a time to hate businesspeople. They were “the establishment.”
As an artist, though, I had a strong interest in people, and especially the elderly. Talking to them was often like stepping into a time machine and taking a trip back to the past. Many of the old folks around when I was 16 had been born before air travel, before the automobile, before electric lights, and before many of the conveniences I took for granted.
There was such a woman, in fact, residing right next door to me. Her name was Mrs. Robinson, and she was an elderly retired widow who had lived in that wood frame house for many years—I never even knew how long. One day, for some reason, she invited me inside.
Once in there, I couldn’t help but notice a large framed black-and-white photograph prominently displayed on her wall. It was of a very proud-looking horse. I pointed to it and asked, “What’s that?”
“A very famous horse,” she replied. “His name was Seabiscuit.”
“Why do you have his picture?”
“Because my husband and I had a company that transported racehorses. We brought Seabiscuit to many races.”
Wow! I thought. Transporting racehorses! Now that is an interesting business! When I consider it now, it occurs to me that the owners of those esteemed animals must have placed a tremendous amount of trust in Mrs. Robinson and her husband to guarantee the safe arrival of their horses at the next race. Of course, the name Seabiscuit is now legendary—there have even been movies made about him.
Mrs. Robinson probably had many more fascinating stories of other equine champions—stories now unfortunately lost to the past.
But the most pertinent part of this tale, and the reasons I have remembered it down through the years: After Mrs. Robinson had told me about Seabuiscuit and about her company, I just happened to ask her what she had loved about life, what really made her happy.
The reply was instant. “Business,” she said, very matter-of-factly. She didn’t add anything to it; for her, that one word said it all.
That reply didn’t really mean anything to me for a long time.
Fast forward to my adult years. In the 1980s when I was forced to find gainful employment, businesspeople become a “necessary evil.” I had to work with them; I had no choice.
In the professional world, I always had my hand in the arts—in managing art direction and print production for a PR firm, and then being a marketing manager and VP marketing for a software firm and other companies. That whole while, I worked cheek-by-jowl with real businesspeople—MBAs, salespeople, managers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and others that made such positions their long-term goals in life.
Interestingly I ended up becoming close friends with a few of them. I realized they were actually human. Not only that, they were actually pretty intelligent. Some even had fantastic senses of humor. Why (gasp) some even liked the same music I did!
But then when I went freelance, the tide of viewpoint really turned for me—for these people then became my clients. In order to sell them on my services, in order to work with them, I really had to dig in and understand them. I had to know what drove them. I had to know why they loved business so much. I had to get why it was they had built companies, and why they continued to operate them or companies like them.
And once I had done that—and really done it time and time again—I fully understood the answer that Mrs. Robinson had given me all those years ago.
And I came to a conclusion that would have made my 16-year-old self howl in agony: I love businesspeople.
There are many reasons—but the most basic is that, without businesspeople there is no culture. There is no society. There is no economy. There is no foundation for the rest of us to build our happy little lives upon.
Lesson learned well.