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.