The scene was a nomination committee for the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs sitting around a large oval conference table at Babson College in 1981.
The committee was comprised of a mixed sort of twelve-plus voting attendees, most of whom were either business school professors, college administrators, and/or Academy stakeholders (e.g., representatives from Business Week, Fortune Magazine, Wall Street Journal). And then there were the two students – one undergraduate, the other a graduate – who sat at the table with equal voting consideration.
In front of us was a list, a rather long list at that, of world class people who were to be considered for the following year’s induction into the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs.
As way of background, The Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs is the world’s first entrepreneurship hall-of-fame established in 1978 to annually honor and recognize the top three or four “entrepreneurs who have contributed significantly to the development of free enterprise throughout the world.”
And since this is a blog I’ll jump to the point.
Jim Henson’s name came up (i.e., famed muppeteer responsible for Big Bird, Ms. Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, etc.) and a robust discussion ensued.
Was Jim an artist, an entertainer, a puppet guy, and could he really be considered an entrepreneur?
On one hand I was stunned that the question was even raised and on the table. Up to then, I had innately supported the idea that entrepreneurs were born and came in all shapes, sizes, colors, disciplines, backgrounds, ages, etc. Furthermore, I had a special appreciation for those creative entertainment-entrepreneurs who cut new grounds in memorable and exciting ways.
Yet part of the echoes I recall from that meeting stirred with voices of contradictory spirit like, “Come on … This is business and we are a business school … Business sticks to the facts and has to keep it black lined, balance sheet approved, otherwise we’re sunk – how could we follow the slippery slope of muppeteers as entrepreneurship … Okay, sure he runs a production company, has licensing deals and other business dealings, but he hangs with the likes of Ms. Piggy … PLEASE! … We have lots of other serious names to consider so can we continue … Besides real entrepreneurs are the likes of Ben Franklin and Andrew Carnegie – legendary people who kick it big in marketplace …”
In the end, that nomination committee helped set the pace for the three entrepreneurs who were ultimately officially voted into the Academy for 1982, including: Wally Amos – The Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookie Corporation; William Norris – Control Data Corporation; and Carl Sontheimer – Cuisinarts, Inc.
A lot has changed since 1981 and somewhere over the years I once heard the definition of an artist as someone who makes the unknown knowable – e.g., takes that which was previously unseen and makes it see-able.
Like the artist, I think this vision also applies to entrepreneurs in that they provide a service where one was missing or void, they bring higher quality deliverables at more efficient pricing to markets that were unknown before, etc.
During the next couple of days in this blog, I will share reflections of various world class entrepreneurs I met along the years of participating in front rows with the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs.
Okay, I won’t name drop but tidbits forthcoming in this blog include entrepreneurs like the founders of Federal Express, H&R Block, Peoples Express, Famous Amos Cookies, Winnebago Industries, Atari and more 🙂
Stay tuned and to be continued … cs