Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Barnyard of Entrepreneurs 5: A Lesson in Business History

Rooster glanced at his phone. 10 a.m.  He looked up from the pit. 80 pullets were sitting expectantly in the classroom.  This was nerve-wracking.  He should never have agreed to guest-teach at his old business school.

Rooster took a deep breath.  At least he'd prepared an icebreaker.

"I want to take a little poll." This got the pullets' immediate attention.  Thanks to social media, they were good at taking polls. "Who do you think was the greatest business leader of all time?" Rooster asked.

A speckled pullet in the front row announced without hesitation, "That's easy.  Mark Zuckerberg."  Affirmation rippled through the class.  Three pullets in the back began chanting "Zuck, Zuck, Zuck."

A wing shot up to the right.  "Yes?"  Rooster acknowledged.  "If you mean all time ever," another pullet announced, "that has to be Steve Jobs."  She smiled.  "He was the God of Leaders."  The three pullets in back who had been chanting "Zuck" suddenly stopped and began chirping "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs."

Rooster looked around.  He could see mental gears turning.  Zuck or Jobs?  Jobs or Zuck?  It was obviously a profound question for this class.  "Anyone else have an opinion?"  Silence.

Maybe he could keep things rolling.  "How about Bill Gates?" Rooster asked.  Silence again.  "Who is he?" a small pullet in the third row asked.  Rooster was briefly confused.  "Microsoft?  He founded Microsoft?!" Rooster tried.  "It was the most valuable company in the world not long ago."

One of the pullets who had been chirping "Jobs" said, "That company?  They make stuff nobody buys."  Another pullet added, "Yeh, 20th-century stuff."

Rooster tried again.  "Anyone want to defend Jim Clark?"  Another pullet laughed.  "Candy bars?  The greatest leader of all time made candy bars?"  Rooster winced.  "No," he corrected.  "I was thinking of the Jim Clark who founded Netscape.  Silicon Graphics.  Healtheon.  The first person to found three multibillion dollar technology companies."

This got the class's attention.  "When was that?" a yellow pullet demanded.  "1950?"  The whole class roared.

Rooster soldiered on.  "Jack Welch, anyone?"  An indignant pullet in the front row exclaimed, "Welsh?  The greatest business leader of all time was British?  No way.  He had to be an American!"

"Yeah," chimed in another.  "Everyone knows the Industrial Revolution was a Silicon Valley disruption!"

Rooster was stunned for a moment, not sure which comment to address.  "General Electric?" he tried.  Blank stares from the pullets.  "GE?"  he offered.

"Oh," he heard from the back.  "I think they used to make cars.  My great-great grandfather drove one."  The laughter started up again.

"Carnegie?" Rooster tried again.  "Libraries?" one pullet responded.  "The greatest business leader in history built places nobody even goes to anymore?  Not likely!" he added.  More laughter.

Rooster ran through his mental checklist.  Sloan. Ford. Morgan. Rockefeller. Vanderbilt.  He hadn't even ventured outside America yet, though already knew what the reaction would be.  He thought maybe retreating to current personalities could at least keep the conversation on track.

"Jeff Bezos?" Rooster offered.  Some of the pullets lit up.  "Of course," one said. "Amazon!"

Rooster added, "Though you need to remember, in twenty years Amazon has never made a profit."

Silence again.  Then the whole class roared hysterically.  One pullet blurted, "Funny one, Professor!"

Rooster shifted uneasily, not sure how to respond.  "Didn't Peter Drucker say the purpose of business was to create a customer?"  More laughter.  "I don't follow Peter Drucker on Twitter," one of the pullets in back said, "but he forgot eyeballs.  The whole point of business is to get eyeballs!"

"And bean bags chairs in the conference rooms," added another.  "And free Coke in the refrigerator," chimed in a third.  "And selling out to Facebook or Apple or Google!"  Now the pullets were completely engaged.  "And getting super-rich!" added a voice from the back.

"What about customers?  Revenue?  Great products?  Profits?"  Rooster tried to make himself heard amidst the laughter.  "That's what created good jobs and raised our standard of living," Rooster exclaimed.  "That's what makes business leaders so important."

The class of pullets dissolved in riotous laughter.  "Professor," one of them said, catching her breath, "you can guest teach anytime you want," adding, "you are hilarious!"