Things started to go wrong, says Declan Lynch, when businessmen began to have feelings and went looking for respect
There used to be a certain amount of clarity, even honesty, about t hese things. If you were a businessman, your purpose i n life was, essentially, to make money. You were the sort of fellow who was always able to turn a shilling, maybe selling cigarettes or matches in the schoolyard, always with a deep understanding of the fundamental laws of business life — supply and demand, making a profit, making a bigger profit on top of that, and so on.
Often, such fellows were so far ahead of their peers in this area, they would have no need for the sort of academic twaddle that everyone else had to endure.
They would leave school early and, with that one wonderful gift of theirs — the ability to make money — they would be driving around in a Rolls-Royce, while their former schoolmates were still trying to get their heads around such vital issues as the square on the hypotenuse being equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.
It was a good deal, that, beautiful in its simplicity. A guy would start out with the dream of being rich. And, due to his innate abilities in that regard, he would, indeed, get rich. And then, in the way of these things, there was only one other thing for him to do, and that was to get richer.
Indeed, so rich would he become, he would be immune to all the barbs of his detractors, who would see him as a highly insensitive fellow, perhaps even a ruthless son of a bitch.
Partly, they would just be envious, which didn't mean that they weren't right — in general, nice, reasonable people, who appreciated poetry and who played classical music on the stereo in the evening, were not the sort you'd want running factories and building dancehalls and so forth.
The businessman, riding around in his automobile, riding his luck in the marketplace, or just riding, didn't care what anybody thought of him. He really didn't give a monkey's.
Indeed, his indifference to the opinions of others was one of the reasons he became so successful in the first place.
And then something changed. At some point in recent history, businessmen started to have feelings. They wanted to be regarded in a different way; they wanted a bit more love. It was no longer enough for them to be just a bunch of guys who wanted to get rich. Now they wanted to be seen as ‘wealth-creators’. Now, the y were all ‘entrepreneurs’.
Even the poncey French word tells us that this was not a change for the better, that, if anything, businessmen had somehow become even more greedy, like the manager of a boyband, who suddenly decides that selling 20 million records isn't enough for him any more, he also wants a good review in The Irish Times.
The entrepreneur became a sort of a Christ-like figure, who lived only to make the world a be tter place, creating new enterprises which, in turn, created jobs and happiness for all.
Businessmen of the old school, who had themselves employed people because, unfortunately, you need to do that sometimes to make more money, must have wondered if they were missing something here.
Were these entrepreneurs creating jobs out of some philanthropic motive, some heightened sense of awareness of the needs of those less fortunate than themselves? Or was it because it helped them to make more money? And, if the latter was the case — and, of course, it was — how exactly was that any different to the way things were done in the pre-entrepreneurial era?
Likewise, the old guard might have wondered if a different species had somehow emerged in recent times; a new sort of business person who read good books and went to plays in the Project Arts Centre, and listened to The Blue of the Night on lyric fm. Is that what these entrepreneurs were like?
Well, not really. In fact, they are still the sort of fellows who can be found at Lord of the Dance for the twentieth time, or who become emotional at Croke Park as Westlife are taking their final bows. They are barbarians on roughly the same scale as their predecessors, but without the healthy disregard those much-maligned big shots had for all forms of culture.
They also retain the egomania of the businessman, except now they want to be seen, not as the local Mr Big, but as free spirits and zany adventurers. They love to be called mavericks, and being the sort of people they are, they get in before everyone else by calling themselves mavericks. So original is their thinking, such is their disregard for convention, these guys can't be tamed. And they'll tell you that, too.
It's a new variation on the old macho posturing; this notion that they're always putting out there, of the little guy with the big idea being constantly beaten back by the establishment, but winning through in the end.
So that the little guy with the big idea is now the little guy with the big swinging mickey.
In that mythical land of the guy who triumphed against all odds, never do we hear about the uncle being a minister, or the bit of planning permission that fell off the back of a truck, or the connections made at the prestigious boarding school, or maybe the few million of a start that he inherited, for luck.
No, in the march to glor y of the entrepreneur, there are no strokes, no one gets shafted, it's just one man and his dream, a dream that came true, because the man was so great.
There's something strangely insecure about it all; this craving for awards and for recognition of their ser vices to the community, or just that desperate desire to be seen as wild and crazy guys.
It's the sort of recognition that money can buy.