Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Building Empires

My son tells me he is going to build an empire. A business empire, to be specific. Since his daddy is a businessman, I suppose that might be a logical career path for him to take. I too wanted to build a business empire when I was younger.

I haven't built much of an empire, though. In fact, over the years I have dramatically revised what I expected to accomplish and how. I have divested myself of some businesses, closed branch offices, anything I could do to centralize operations and uncomplicate my life. My thinking now is: Less is more.

I'll tell you why I have changed my thinking in a moment. First, though, I want to say that I have no problem with my son following in my footsteps, although I have never expected him to do so. I haven't at all encouraged him to do so. In fact, if anything, I have discouraged his becoming a businessman. I think it grossly unfair that a child be expected to take over a parent's business just to keep it in the family. I think every individual should follow his or her dream, whatever that might be. Since my son is only thirteen years old, his dream may change by the time he is ready to start his empire building. In fact his dream may change tomorrow. Teenagers change their minds as frequently as their socks.

For the moment, though, it looks as though my son is serious. I had given him a copy of 'Capitalism for Kids,' by Karl Hess a couple of years ago and now he is reading books like 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad,' and other similar books. He either raids my personal library or seeks out books of interest to him on his own. Last week, I saw him reading a Donald Trump book that he had borrowed from a friend. My son has a pretty good grasp of what it means to be a businessman but is, I'm afraid, as unaware and naive as I was about the amount of pain and sacrifice necessary to succeed in a significant way as an entrepreneur. Because I understand this more now than I did when I started in business, I am trying to prepare my son in advance.

Yes, my thinking has changed on the subject of empire building.

Entrepreneurial types usually want to be in business for themselves because they don't like being told what to do. Sure, they might have a great idea for a new product or service, or at least on how to be competitive in the marketplace, but they could simply work within an existing organization as manager or executive to promote and implement their ideas and save themselves a lot of grief. No, the need for independence is usually the driving force behind entrepreneurs. That independence, to the extent that it is realized, can carry a very high price. And it can be illusory. An entrepreneur might not have a boss looking over his shoulder, but he will be accountable to customers, bankers and, most of all, to various levels of government and quasi-governmental institutions and regulatory bodies.

That, friends, is the killer. I have fought more battles against officious busybodies, in myriad bureaucratic settings, than against every other intrusion into my business life combined. I'll spare you the details here, because I can feel smoke starting to come out of my ears and I would really like to live out another day. All I will say is that if there is a way to unnecessarily complicate any otherwise simple business transaction, you can rest assured that some bureaucrat is assiduously working on the problem. That is why I have cut back, slowed down, dropped out. That is also why many bright and capable individuals will never succeed in business. The price is too high. The emotional drain of fighting one useless battle after another takes its toll. Who needs it?

I don't mind if my son becomes a businessman. I would even enjoy working with him. I just want him to know what he will face. Of course, maybe, just maybe, we will have less government by then, fewer bozos to complicate our lives, a freer, fairer society, and, oh yeah, much lower taxes.



  1. Being an entrepreneur must be like being a professional athlete, only the strain is more mental and emotional rather than physical.
    I can't even remember the new ideas for products and services I came up with around the 13-15 year old level. Once I got to 16, I started learning about bureaucrats and the miles of endless red tape with which they wished to tie my hands, and the Professional Excuse-Making Industry (read that ACLU) and their bar association buddies were ginning up the frivolous lawsuit mill, so I reluctantly abandoned the idea and went to work for someone else.
    These things are what you will need to encourage him to continue to move ahead inspite of, because I know I would have been much more prosperous if I had...Even though AmSoc is not nearly as far along as the Canadian version.

  2. You help me make my point, Ted. You might have been a great entrepreneur with some great idea that could have changed our lives or at least just given us a better mousetrap. But you didn't follow that particular dream. A lot of people become discouraged. I don't regret the path I have followed and certainly would never whine about how tough life is. It's just the senselessness of it all. Clueless people telling the clued what to do. Incompetent people telling the competent how to act and think. It boggles the mind.