Things started to go wrong, says De­clan Lynch, when busi­ness­men be­gan to have feel­ings and went look­ing for re­spect

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - SACRED COWS -

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.

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