No, Mr. President, I Did Build It…and That Other Thing Too.

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve seen your com­ments regard­ing who “built” what, review­ing the orig­i­nal footage as well as the footage from a speech by your friend Eliz­a­beth War­ren. I’m sure you’re get­ting a LOT of mail right now, so here is a link in case you want to see a sum­mary. Spoiler alert: there is a third video there, a Mitt Rom­ney cam­paign video.

I am sad to say that I dis­agree with what you are say­ing. You claim my entre­pre­neur­ial suc­cess was due to, or built upon the work of oth­ers. I find this com­ment insult­ing to my sense of what I have accom­plished and the hard work that I put into every day. I find it dis­parag­ing to the very heart of what Amer­ica is about: the land of oppor­tu­nity. We all have that oppor­tu­nity, and some of us do more with it than oth­ers. We all use those roads, but some of us build busi­nesses and cre­ate jobs when we use them. I believe that does make us dif­fer­ent, and even more so, deserv­ing of your respect and thanks.

Eliz­a­beth War­ren very clearly spells out that this is a form of class war­fare. We have a class of non-entrepreneurs (which you and Ms. War­ren are mem­bers) who are say­ing how a class of entre­pre­neurs should feel about them­selves and their accom­plish­ments. There is an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion between hav­ing an opin­ion about some­thing (“I don’t think that entre­pre­neurs do any­thing spe­cial”) and telling a group that their beliefs are invalid (“you didn’t do any­thing spe­cial, and you are steal­ing credit for what you did from oth­ers”). Let me try one: “Many minori­ties have gained oppor­tu­ni­ties they might not have oth­er­wise had due to schools pro­vid­ing them oppor­tu­ni­ties to pros­per and gain from a high-quality edu­ca­tion”, ver­sus, “Mr. Pres­i­dent, had Har­vard not been atten­tive to pro­vid­ing equal oppor­tu­nity, you very likely would never have become our president.”

The dif­fer­ence is grat­i­tude and acknowl­edg­ment ver­sus divi­sive­ness and dis­em­pow­er­ment. Class warfare.

This tearing-down of peo­ple is some­thing that I didn’t expect when I cast my vote for you four years ago. You ran on a cam­paign of “Hope” and bring­ing us together, also “trans­parency”. You made promises regard­ing these, and most of them you have not kept. Divi­sive­ness and par­ti­san­ship has grown dur­ing your admin­is­tra­tion, a sign to me that you do not pos­sess the lead­er­ship nec­es­sary to com­bat this prob­lem. We entre­pre­neurs live by our word, our promises. If our prod­uct or ser­vice does not deliver, then best case, we apol­o­gize, worst case, we’re out of business.

To me, you don’t feel like one of us. We entre­pre­neurs don’t have the lux­ury of wag­ing class war­fare, because every­one else is our cus­tomer or a poten­tial cus­tomer, employee, or busi­ness part­ner of some sort — we have to learn how to get along, col­lab­o­rate, part­ner and work together for suc­cess. We need their votes.

In one sense, your words are cor­rect: none of us did it alone. We all know that. We all know that with­out good peo­ple, busi­ness part­ners, our fam­ily as sup­port, and many oth­ers, the road we fol­lowed would have been dif­fer­ent, harder and very likely a dead end. We show our grat­i­tude to these peo­ple every day. To not do so is to be a fool­ish and arro­gant busi­ness person.

I know a lot of entre­pre­neurs, and they work really damn hard. I know that a lot of peo­ple work hard in this world. But peo­ple build­ing their own busi­nesses, the peo­ple and busi­nesses that are at the heart of our econ­omy, work a LOT harder than most every­one else. These are the peo­ple who are up at 5:00 a.m. respond­ing to emails and get­ting ready for a jam-packed day…a day that ends at 11:00 at night, again on emails or a con­fer­ence call. They do this not for a busy week or month, but relent­lessly, even patho­log­i­cally, for years at a stretch. I read recently that you’ve spent more time golf­ing than receiv­ing eco­nomic brief­ings. I don’t know if that is true, but I know that if my com­pany was in mas­sive debt, hem­or­rhag­ing employ­ees and gen­er­ally not meet­ing its promises to its cus­tomers, I wouldn’t be golf­ing, I would be work­ing pretty f-ing hard.

And entre­pre­neurs are smart, and prob­a­bly smarter than your aver­age per­son by a long stretch. It takes smarts and hard work to suc­ceed. Your com­ments regard­ing there being a lot of smart peo­ple and a lot of hard-working peo­ple are dis­mis­sive of some­thing that we should cel­e­brate: the smart­ness and work-ethic that America’s entre­pre­neurs have, and the bounty that has bestowed upon our great nation. Yes, the gov­ern­ment did finance some of the early Arpanet work and ear­lier packet-switching the­ory that is now at the core of the inter­net. That invest­ment, paid for with tax­payer dol­lars, was nec­es­sary, but not at all suf­fi­cient to make the inter­net what it is today. The inter­net, and America’s dom­i­nance in its indus­tries, came from its entrepreneurs.

Most entre­pre­neurs aren’t rich like Mitt Rom­ney. They make good money, yes, but only if and when they suc­ceed. And even then, those pay­outs look more like a aver­age person’s retire­ment plan, not like yachts and jet-setting. I built a con­sult­ing firm a few years back, in the 1990’s. We made mil­lions of dol­lars every year…in sales. When I left and sold my share of the com­pany to my part­ners, we had about 90 employ­ees. 90% of our costs were those employ­ees; $0.90 of every dol­lar went to our peo­ple. What we were doing was gen­er­at­ing jobs for those peo­ple, keep­ing them fed. I’m not rich, nor retired, and I prob­a­bly work more than you, harder than you. No offense, but it is prob­a­bly true.

Back when I had that con­sult­ing firm, when I got up at 4:00 a.m. to go to the air­port and fly across the coun­try to work with a client, I wasn’t doing it because I was going to live like Don­ald Trump. I did it because I cared about our peo­ple, and I knew that with­out my drive, my com­mit­ment to mak­ing every day a suc­cess, my desire to cre­ate value for our clients, we might not have enough money for pay­roll, and our peo­ple might not be able to pay their mort­gage or their bills. It was like swim­ming with a shark fol­low­ing you. Every time you got more busi­ness (and with it a renewed hope of hav­ing more cash and less pres­sure) you real­ized that the shark had grown as well — you had more money, but you also now had more mouths to feed, more employ­ees count­ing on you.

Yeah, entre­pre­neurs have fan­tasies about being a Steve Jobs. But that fan­tasy dies as quickly as the first cup of cof­fee at 6 a.m. Being entre­pre­neurs is sim­ply what we do. We don’t always have our own com­pany — often we band together and work in a startup. Or we work in sales or busi­ness devel­op­ment for some­one else. The rewards come from what we do for oth­ers, our fam­i­lies, our employ­ees and customers…and their fam­i­lies. The most-rewarding moments of my career were when I was sign­ing pay­roll checks. I was proud that we could pay our peo­ple well and give them a great lifestyle. I remem­ber sign­ing one employee’s check think­ing about he and his wife just had a baby girl and also had just bought a new house. This check was help­ing them do that, live that life. He was able to work from home and spend lots of time with his kids…because of the great job we gave him. That was our deal: they work hard for us, and we work harder and longer for them.

And that’s an impor­tant point, and some­thing I think that you also miss, Mr. Pres­i­dent. To be suc­cess­ful in busi­ness requires a level of humil­ity that you do not appear to have. The fan­tasy that peo­ple have about entre­pre­neurs is that they work for them­selves. Noth­ing is far­ther from the truth: entre­pre­neurs work for every­one else. In order to suc­ceed, you need to treat every­one (employ­ees, part­ners, cus­tomers, etc.) like they are THE cus­tomer; they are right, they need to be taken care of, thought of, appre­ci­ated and thanked reg­u­larly. We work for every­one else. And in that same way, you work for us. Think about it.

So what I would rather have from you, Mr. Pres­i­dent, is a thank you, or even an apol­ogy. I would rather that you acknowl­edge what most peo­ple and econ­o­mists know, that us entre­pre­neurs are the heart of the econ­omy, and in many ways the heart of what makes Amer­ica great. And an acknowl­edge­ment that we are your cus­tomer, too. That you show us the same respect that we show every­one else, every day, in the hard times especially.

And I want a “thank you” for those roads and those schools. Busi­ness own­ers prob­a­bly pay 90% of the taxes. Gov­ern­ment jobs, do pay taxes, of course, but that is just our private-sector tax money being recy­cled into the pub­lic sec­tor. Those roads were built both because of our entre­pre­neur­ship and also for our entre­pre­neur­ship — because some politi­cians wiser than your­self real­ized that busi­ness is the heart of the econ­omy, and that with­out proper infra­struc­ture, cops, fire­men, curbs, schools, etc., busi­nesses would strug­gle and peo­ple would be with­out jobs, or be under-employed. We paid for those roads and we’re happy that every­one can use them, even politi­cians who are out cam­paign­ing, and whose pay comes from taxes that our busi­nesses generate.

Sev­eral years ago, Pat Metheny blogged about how every time he heard any­one men­tion Kenny G, it moti­vated him to redou­ble his efforts to be a great musi­cian in the hope that peo­ple would actu­ally be able to tell the dif­fer­ence between what Kenny G does and what a great musi­cian sounds like.

You’re a great ora­tor, Mr. Pres­i­dent. In busi­ness, we call that being a “talker”. In busi­ness, what really mat­ters is what you do. We look for results, and we look to see if you’re a good per­son and play well with oth­ers. I hired you to bring us together and I’m not see­ing the results. I’m feel­ing insulted. The time for talk­ing is over.

This year I won’t vote for you. I’m pretty sure that we need some­one pro-business (read: pro-employment) in the White House. That would be Mitt. He built a big busi­ness and I fig­ure that he “gets it”.

I close with thanks to you, Mr. Pres­i­dent. Thanks for mak­ing my Novem­ber deci­sion so clear. Thanks for light­ing a fire under my butt, Pat Metheny style, so that I speak up and get oth­ers to think about what we’re vot­ing for or against. Liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, my vote won’t really count, but thanks to you, I stand a chance of my voice mak­ing a difference.

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