Top 10 gifts for the entrepreneur in your life

December 15, 2009

Entrepreneurs are hard to buy for. We’re a demanding species and usually far too focused on our companies to give any helpful guidance to the significant other in our lives desperately trying to choose a nice gift. So here are my top ten suggestions for what to buy the businessperson in your life this Christmas:

#1 A gift-certificate with Kiva – micro-finance to entrepreneurs in the developing world:

kivaThis will remind your entrepreneur “it’s not all about YOU”, there are other entrepreneurs out there, some of them need support to set up their own business and thus create their own job. Kiva’s motto is “loans that change lives” and they enable ordinary people here to lend to entrepreneurs in the developing world and feel great about doing so. Kiva is a micro-finance pioneer, typical loans might be to fund the purchase of a sewing machine to produce garments for sale. Kiva makes your life easy by offering a range of gift certificates, which you can email, or print out at home. It even lets lenders set up a portfolio of their investments, and the promise of some feedback in the future. (But not necessarily a monthly set of management accounts of metrics to review and analyse!) Kiva.

#2 Holiday/Vacation:

holidayAfter helping out other people through the magic of Kiva, now it’s time your entrepreneur looked after himself. You’ve been trying to persuade your significant other to take a break? Forget it. Just book that vacation/holiday now. They will appreciate it! If you can find somewhere with limited internet connectivity, even better. (Note, I said limited – no internet connectivity would be an unmitigated disaster!). Getting some down time and recharging the mental batteries is a good thing which many entrepreneurs don’t do nearly enough, and usually need some persuasion to help get them there. Trip Advisor.

#3 Smartphone: Motorola Droid / Milestone

milestoneYou can never have enough gadgets and this is the most desirable smartphone currently available. It’s sold by Verizon in the US as the Droid and in Europe it’s available SIM free as the Milestone. Based on Google’s Android operating system it’s an alternative to the ubiquitous iPhone. Any true geek should have one of each.

#4 Amazon Kindle:

The Kindle is an electronic book reader which is unique in that it has a built-in mobile connection, so you can use it wirelessly in over 100 countries world-wide. Like other e-books the display uses “electronic ink”, so doesn’t cause eye-strain. Unlike a real book you can change the text size, search through text and download the first chapter to try-before-you-buy. It can even read to you! Books, magazines and newspapers can be downloaded over-the-air, and you can also browse Wikipedia for no cost. This is a single purpose gadget which encourages you to detach from the internet for a few moments and concentrate on a book, and that’s a good thing.

#5 Book: 100 Best Business Books of all time:

100bestThis book contains recommendations and summaries of 100 carefully researched books by the people behind 800-CEO-READ. It’s been divided into sections to let the reader easily find just the right sort of book for the particular challenge he’s having. The 2 or 3 page summary of each book gives you the heads up without necessarily having to read the whole book. A great resource and time saver. Buy on Amazon in the UK or US.

#6 Magazine subscription:

incThere are lots of great magazines like Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, Inc and Fast Company and they often highlight stories in a different way to web-only media. Magazines never need batteries, are highly portable and are definitely worth a read. (They can also be read during take off and landing on a flight, unlike laptops, iPhones, and Kindles which must all be turned off). Magazines.com

#7 Noise-cancelling headphones:

boseMost entrepreneurs end up doing a lot of travelling. The endless conferences, events, trade shows and client or investor meetings translate to a lot of time in the air. A set of these beauties will let him or her detach from the hustle and bustle and enjoy some quality relaxation time, or time to focus on their work in peace and with minimal distractions. Bose aren’t the only ones who make them, but are the most well-known.

#8 Priority Pass membership:

prioritypassEconomy class travellers can use this to get a tiny bit of respite at an airport lounge instead of being stuck in the chaos that is a modern airport. Only trouble is that once used to this it’s hard to go back. Priority Pass.

#9 Binary clock:

clockTwo hands on a clock is very conventional and rather unchallenging. Why make life so easy? Here’s one for the programmer/geek entrepreneur, a binary clock which will keep his mind sharp whilst reading the time. On the other hand, it could be another excuse for why he’s never on time for anything non-work related.

#10 USB foot warmer:

warmerFor those entrepreneurs who find themselves stuck behind a desk most of the day, (or night), this USB foot warmer will stop frostbite, perhaps. (Or just chilly feet). Neat.

Anything I’ve missed off the list? Please comment below, I’m keen to hear from you!


The real-time web – the web is now more scary than ever if you’re average

December 11, 2009

Imagine that you’re running a reasonably successful business, (it doesn’t matter what it is), but you’re pretty happy with things and you think your customers are too. At least you don’t get that many complaints and usually giving a refund or discount voucher for next time round seems to buy them off the whiners. You probably weren’t even engaging in the web and now this new high-speed real-time web has appeared. Oh dear. What are you going to do now? Spend more on traditional interruption advertising, cut your costs – stay lean, focus on delivering the cheapest price?

You could bury your head in the sand too while you’re at it. If you’re happy with your business now and happy to see it erode slowly over time that is certainly one approach you could take. Or you could embrace the massive change that is taking place, one which is letting people connect with each other, globally and enabling new businesses who are truly passionate about what they do come in and revolutionise an industry.

Here’s the thing… it’s actually the small and medium sized businesses who have the most to gain and the most to lose from this. The large corporations are seen as being distant and aloof anyway, but smaller companies can and ought to be closer to and more responsive to their customer. You can either embrace the new tools available and grow significantly, or sit back and let a new competitor do so and see your position eroded. Would you like to be a winner or loser in the new world?

One winner is Gary Vaynerchuk, a wise-cracking upstart, who could have been an extra in The Sopranos, except for the fact he was born in the USSR just 31 years ago. He turned his Dad’s neighbourhood liquor store in New Jersey into a $70M online wine retail business. Gary V is one of those people who is passionate about whatever he gets involved in and in his book “Crush It” he explains how anyone with a passion can use that to create a successful business. And if you truly care, that comes across to the people you’re engaging with. But how different it could have been for Gary. That local shop could have closed years ago as the hypermarket opened a mile down the road and quickly you begin to resent their low prices, and the fact that people never really cared for you much anyway. (Might have been something to do with you not caring about them either).

Gary was speaking at “Le Web” conference in Paris, the central theme of which was “the real-time web”, that stream of consciousness such as status updates on sites like Facebook, twitter, MySpace and Facebook. Up until now the status updates and content of these sites has generally been walled off from search engines, but that’s now changing, with both Google and Bing displaying just such content within their regular search results.

The importance of this should not be underestimated, the web is now much less static, and now much more alive than ever before.

Web searching can be divided into three types of search:

  • searching for a site, e.g. going to google and typing in “ikea.com” (Apparently a lot of people do this!)
  • searching for data, e.g. factual information
  • searching for news/updates on current events

The first two are handled very well by search engines, the data is easy to index, rank and display. The last category has never been handled well by traditional search engines, breaking news events may or may not appear and there is a reliance on traditional media sources, who are often the last to report such events. The types of happenings we are talking about… Tiger Woods infamous golf club/wife/fire hydrant/vehicle incident, or the plane crashing into the Hudson or the death of Michael Jackson. Getting real-time updates from those close to such events is something that’s very valuable. There’s a myriad of companies, including Google who are trying to satisfy the currently unmet desire which people have for the latest, accurate information, in real-time. Much of the real-time information may well be nonsense, but it’s going to amplify and expand exponentially for years to come and we need a way to deal with it. (And if you’re running a company you need to find ways to listen to it at the very least, even if you don’t feel comfortable taking an active role yet).

Chris Brogan believes the web today has moved from being like theatre played out on a stage in front of the audience, to theatre in the round where everyone can take part. Sure you can choose not to take part, but you cannot stop people talking about you. Wouldn’t you rather listen, respond and be part of the conversation? (Or you could shout louder and spend more on old forms of advertising). The scary part is, you can’t opt out of the collaborative web; even if you choose not to have engagement tools on your site other people can add them in by themselves and talk to other users of your site without you even knowing about it. (Thanks to another new Google product called Sidewiki).

So, back to the imaginary company I asked you to think about, you’re probably feeling pretty scared right now. These pesky people are going to voice their opinions loudly, and their friends will listen, after all we trust people much more than companies. Negative comments and complaints voiced will now very publicly highlight all your product or services shortcomings, and the speed of this is now faster than ever before.

On the other hand you could be the type of business who has a great culture, a great product and a great attitude to your customers and you’re probably now really excited about now having the tools and platforms to enhance the connection with your customer base, nurture your hard-core of fans, discuss and exchange ideas with them and develop a bigger and better relationship. The real-time web was made for you…. go and embrace it!

Inspiration for this piece came from the following speakers, click the links to watch their videos.

(If you watch just one make it Gary’s)

More blogs from me on Le Web:


What’s wrong with tech entrepreneurship in Europe

December 10, 2009

Photo Credit:  Dave Cynkin

Niklas Zennström, founder of Skype, Kazaa, Joost and now Atomico Ventures spoke at Le Web today about his entrepreneurial experiences. Following that there was a round table panel hosted by Brent Hoberman (co-founder Lastminute.com), discussing why there is a notable lack of billion dollar internet businesses in Europe. The panel included entrepreneurs from the UK, France, Spain and Norway such as the founders of Fon and Opera.

Both Zennström and the panel highlighted some structural issues which are clearly holding back Europe. I was horrified at some of the severe issues which startups have to endure in Spain in particular. It’s no wonder Spain is in deep trouble, with unemployment at a horrific 19%. I feel fortunate the UK does not suffer from anything quite as severe as these issues.

So what is the problem with tech businesses in Europe?

  • VCs have a very low appetite for risk, compared to their silicon valley counterparts
  • European entrepreneurs move to silicon valley to enjoy a more supportive environment, but causing a European brain drain
  • Tax regime is geared towards corporations rather than small startup businesses
  • Restrictions on immigration and visas for high-level people
  • Restrictive hiring and firing legislation which prevents businesses flexibly scaling up or down as required
  • High burden of regulation
  • No critical mass of potential acquirers
  • Large European businesses don’t trust buying from newer small companies
  • More complicated and harder to scale in Europe (due to language and multiple country markets)

Silver lining

Whilst these challenges are undoubtedly hampering Europe’s ability to build significant internet businesses there are some points where we do rather well:

  • It’s easier to build a global business out of Europe, because we’re more used to dealing with different languages and cultures.
  • European managers are better than their American counterparts, partially because of greater international experience.
  • Innovation remains high.

What can be done

  • Reduced regulation
  • Reduced tax burden
  • Better internet infrastructure (e.g. more European cloud operators)
  • More sanguine approach to failure
  • and by far the most important, everyone agreed, a hands off approach from Governments

Finally, it’s worth noting that it’s not all bad, there have been some successful European tech companies, such as Skype, and there will surely be more.


How to create a community for your website

December 9, 2009

Photo Credit: Adam Tinworth

The answer is… you can’t create a community. You can facilitate it, you can guide it but the community is inside all of us (as individuals).

That’s the message which blogger Chris Pirillo passionately expanded on his keynote address to the Le Web conference in Paris today.

Community is inside all of us.

Community isn’t about a company, but a culture.

Community is becoming increasingly distributed. (For example everyone now has many profiles on multiple websites).

Community requires tools that can’t be built; it’s the people which make a community.

Community is a commodity, but people aren’t.

Community cannot be controlled, only guided. (This is the thing which most companies from the advertising age don’t get. They fret that “people might say bad things about us”. Pirillo argues that’s a GOOD thing; it shows people care).

Community is no longer defined by physical boundaries. (Thanks to the web we now have more things in common with people on the other side of the world than we do our next door neighbours).

Community grows its own leaders.

Community is the antithesis of ego.

Community is everywhere, inside of us.

For more detail on this direct from the source visit Chris Pirillo’s blog.


Culture at Zappos and how everyone benefits

December 8, 2009

Zappos TourI recently spent two days immersed in Zappos at their Las Vegas HQ and this post follows up on my description of Zappos’ world-class customer service. The two day Zappos Insights programme starts with a tour round the office. (This is the same tour that anyone can get for free). On the tour round we met team after team of happy, smiling people. We were greeted by a group of people singing, blowing on whistles or party toys. Everyone has their own, very personalised desk area and there’s all sorts of stuff you wouldn’t expect to see in an office, which makes the whole place feel more like a college dorm room than a place of work. But that’s the point about Zappos, work doesn’t have to be dull!

If you have seen some of the many zany videos available on YouTube you may think that Zappos isn’t serious about anything. They are, it’s just that for obvious reason it’s mainly just the fun and weird stuff that makes it on to the web, it’s more entertaining!

Why the focus on culture?

Tony HsiehBy the time Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh sold his first business to Microsoft in 1998 for $265M he had come to realise something was no longer right with the culture at Link Exchange. Work had ceased to be fun and this he puts down to the type of people they hired, the best for the job but not the best for the atmosphere; many were “assholes”.

Culture and values

Zappos is different, it’s been carefully built over the years by only hiring people with the right cultural fit. Regardless of how much they need staff, if they can’t find the right people with the right attitude, they won’t hire them, no matter how talented that person may be or how badly they need to fill the position. We were given an example from Zappos’ recruitment manager, “right now we would hire 30 software developers if we could find them”. That’s commitment.

These are the ten core values:

1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More With Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble

These were carefully assembled over the course of about a year when Tony Hsieh emailed everyone in the company asking for a list of their personal core values; it was a truly democratic process. Says Tony, “The individual values are not what is important, but alignment of everyone to the core values”.

Why does culture matter?

As the culture evolves in a company such as Zappos amazing things happen, and the business benefits enormously. Here are some striking examples from Zappos of the benefits of the highly aligned culture:

  • Productivity increases by anywhere from 20% to 100%
  • Staff churn is incredibly low; just 6% voluntary churn within the Customer Loyalty Team (call centre)
  • Ideas are generated from the ground up and this innovation keeps the company ahead of its rivals
  • There is a clear framework for delegated decision making which means that the most junior employees, the call centre reps can do things like spend company money on ad-hoc gifts to customers, (which increases customer loyalty), and, by giving people autonomy, job satisfaction vastly increases too

Culture in action

Graffiti wall at ZapposThe job satisfaction, sense of family and loyalty to the company is evident when visiting, whether it’s the graffiti wall where members of staff have written various glowing comments about Zappos or just the genuine friendly way people in the corridors make eye contact, smile and say “hello” when they pass each other.

The outpouring of employee-love for Zappos is documented every year in a the “culture book“. In the book are unedited responses from all staff explaining what the Zappos’ culture means to them. Here’s one I like:

“We all share the quality of wanting to provide service through excellence in anything that we do. It’s that spirit that continues to allow us to grow to what we are today. In this family, we all strive to develop and improve, not just one person but the entire company as a whole. Our culture here is compiled by all of us sharing beliefs, values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterise us as a family”.

For more real-life examples of company’s with extraordinary cultures and the benefits which accrue I recommend books including Good to Great, Built to Last and Tribal Leadership. (Thanks to Zappos you can download a free audio version of Tribal Leadership here; listen to it and then pass it on!).

[Update: my visit to Zappos Insights was covered by Business Week]

I recently spent two days immersed in Zappos at their Las Vegas HQ and this post follows up on my description of their world-class customer service. The two day Zappos Insights programme starts with a tour round the office; this is the same tour that anyone can get for free, just by emailing tours@zappos.com On the tour round we met team after team of happy, smiling people. Sometimes we were greeted by a group of people singing, blowing on whistles or party toys. Everyone has their own, very personalised desk area and there’s all sorts of stuff you wouldn’t expect to see in an office, which makes the whole place feel more like a college dorm room than a place of work. But that’s the point about Zappos, work doesn’t have to be dull! Those of you who may have seen some of the many zany http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUhAEFkbh5I videos available on YouTube may think that Zappos isn’t serious http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE00IspxzDY about anything. They are, it’s just that for obvious reason it’s mainly just the fun and weird stuff that makes it on to the web, it’s more entertaining! By the time Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh sold his first business to Microsoft in 1998 for $265M he had come to realise something was no longer right with the culture at Link Exchange. Work had ceased to be fun and this he puts down to the type of people they hired, the best for the job but not the best for the atmosphere; many were “assholes”. Culture and values Zappos is different, it’s been carefully built over the years by only hiring people with the right cultural fit. Regardless of how much they need staff, if they can’t find the right people with the right attitude, they won’t hire them, no matter how talented that person may be or how badly they need to fill the position. An example from Zappos’ recruitment manager, “right now we would hire 30 software developers if we could find them”. These are the ten core values: 1. Deliver WOW Through Service 2. Embrace and Drive Change 3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness 4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded 5. Pursue Growth and Learning 6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication 7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit 8. Do More With Less 9. Be Passionate and Determined 10. Be Humble These were carefully assembled over the course of about a year when Tony Hsieh emailed everyone in the company asking for a list of their personal core values. It was a truly democratic process. Says Tony, “The individual values are not what is important, but alignment of everyone to the core values”. Why this matters As the culture evolves in a company such as Zappos amazing things happen, and the business benefits enormously. Here are some striking examples from Zappos of the benefits of the highly aligned culture: Productivity increases by as much as 20%-100% Staff churn is incredibly low, just 6% voluntary churn within the CLT – Customer Loyalty Team (call centre) Ideas are generated from the ground up and this innovation keeps the company ahead of its rivals There is a clear framework for delegated decision making which means that the most junior employees, the call centre reps can do things like spend company money on ad-hoc gifts to customers, (which increases customer loyalty), and, by giving people autonomy, job satisfaction vastly increases too The job satisfaction, sense of family and loyalty to the company is evident when visiting, whether it’s the graffiti wall where members of staff have written various glowing comments about Zappos or just the genuine friendly way people in the corridors make eye contact, smile and say “hello” when they pass each other. The outpouring of employee-love for Zappos is documented every year in a the “culture book”. (For a copy email ceo@zappos.com with your mailing address). In the book are unedited responses from all staff explaining what the Zappos’ culture means to them. Alexa F explains in her entry: “We all share the quality of wanting to provide service through excellence in anything that we do. It’s that spirit that continues to allow us to grow to what we are today. In this family, we all strive to develop and improve, not just one person but the entire company as a whole. Our culture here is compiled by all of us sharing beliefs, values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterise us as a family”. For more real-life examples I recommend books including Good to Great, Built to Last and Tribal Leadership. (Thanks to Zappos you can download a free audio version of Tribal Leadership here; listen to it and then pass it on!). Photos: Graffiti wall Tony talking

Great Scots who changed the world

December 3, 2009

This blog is inspired by two recent TV programmes and highlights some of the Scottish people who have made an immense contribution to the world, including inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists and others – some well-known and others not. If you’re not Scottish you might want to skip the next paragraph and go straight to my list of the top 5.

The first TV programme was a BBC series called “The Scots Who Made the Modern World” and profiled the Scots who made contributions to medicine, engineering, science, communications, commerce and finance. The other show could have been called “Scot-Idol” with viewers voting for “The Greatest Scot” in an online and telephone poll.  It is this show that persuaded me to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, as I remain disgruntled with the top 10 voted for by my fellow country-men. I know it’s just a nonsense TV show and I shouldn’t take it too seriously…. but really, as if it was not bad enough that the “Doctor Who” actor David Tennant was on the list in the first place, he ended up as the fifth greatest Scot – ahead of Andrew Carnegie, and even Robert The Bruce. Maybe I am missing something in David’s lighthearted portrayal of the time lord, or, maybe the people who watch STV are idiots. You decide. Lines are open now!

So here is my own list, with, for me a clear winner and another four deserving of mention. The criteria I used was to assess their lasting positive impact, not just on Scotland, but on the World. This list therefore does not contain actors, authors, comedians, pop stars, sportsmen, monarchs or war heroes, they either don’t have a lasting impact or if they did it was restricted to Scotland, or at a push, the UK as a whole.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie is an inspirational figure to me, and to many other entrepreneurs I suspect. In part because of his accomplishment of being the richest person alive at the time, but more so for what he did to promote and practice philanthropy which has both benefitted millions world-wide and influenced countless of super-rich ever since. The son of a weaver he emigrated with his family to the US aged 13. His first job was working in a cotton mill earning $1.20 a week; just 40 years later Carnegie Steel Company was the largest and most profitable enterprise in the world. He sold it to J.P. Morgan in 1901 making him worth $937M at the time. In today’s money that’s equivalent to almost $400Bn. He has been credited as being the principal figure behind America’s transformation from a rural agricultural country into an industrial power, and he vastly expanded the middle classes due to the layers of management he employed.

What sets Carnegie apart from other super-rich was his philanthropy; “The man who dies rich, dies disgraced,” he wrote in his essay, “The Gospel of Wealth”. The trusts he set up continue today, focused primarily on education and world peace they have assets of billions and it is thought that not a single person in the Western world has been untouched by Carnegie’s legacy. His most famous endowments are the incredible 2509 libraries built all over the english speaking
world, but his endowment also funded universities and museums and still provides educational grants to disadvantaged individuals.

Adam Smith is the father of the modern free market economics and has created a lasting impact with his masterpiece, “An Inquiry into the nature of causes of the Wealth of Nations”. This was published in 1776 but its appeal and influence continues to this day. It states that public interest is advanced by individual self-interest, productivity and wealth creation which benefits everyone and indeed raises everyone’s level of happiness. It is a commonly used text when countries start industrialising, and in recent times has influenced both Japan and China in their economic development.

John Logie Baird was a visionary inventor who pioneered television and thus created the most impactful medium of the 20th century. The first transmission using his system was in 1928 and is all the more remarkable that Baird was largely self funded; he did not have the resources available to his competitors at EMI/Marconi. Their competing system was eventually commercially adopted and became the standard. However, Baird was undeterred and embraced the superior electronic technology and only a few years later demonstrated colour, 3D and high-definition television systems using their systems. He was a prolific inventor and also filed patents on technologies including infra-red night vision, fibre-optics and radar. Although his original mechanical televisor fell out of use, a camera using his technology broadcast the pictures from the moon landing in 1969, over 40 years after his original demonstrations in London.

Sir Alexander Fleming is included here not just for his own breakthrough work which led to antibiotics, but for all the countless other Scots whose pioneering endeavours significantly enhanced the field of medicine. If there was one particular industry Scotland excelled in, this was it. During the heyday of the British empire 9 out of 10 doctors were trained in Scotland and the contribution made by Scottish physicians continues to this day. Other advances developed here include modern surgery techniques, antiseptics, anaesthetics, x-ray and ultra-sound. Additionally tuberculosis was eradicated and malaria controlled. More recently drugs including beta blockers were invented and more controversial advances including stem cell research and cloning were pioneered.

Finally, James Clerk Maxwell was a physicist and mathematician whose electromagnetic theory has enabled the development of wireless technologies such as radio, television, satellites, and mobile phones – and with these, huge leaps forward in technology and convenience for billions of people world-wide. He demonstrated that magnetism, light and electricity are all manifestations of the same electromagnetic field. This breakthrough is regarded as the second great unification in physics, after Sir Isaac Newton. Einstein described Maxwell’s work as the “most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton. One scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell.”

Of the runners-up in my list there were two who came close. Firstly there was John Law who invented modern finance techniques including paper money and stock exchanges. Sadly his methods precipitated the first financial bubble and so you could say he was the inventor of the boom and bust cycle. The invention by Alexander Graham Bell of the telephone has probably had an even greater impact on the world than that of Baird’s television, but there is some compelling evidence that Bell was perhaps not wholly responsible for the invention he is credited for.

Neither did I include any of the Scottish engineers who made the industrial revolution possible, the world owes this group of men a great deal and I feel guilty for leaving them out, but like most of the advances in medicine, it is difficult to single out the contributions of individuals. Among them were Thomas Telford, the civil engineer who built over 900 miles of roads alone as well as bridges and canals and James Watt, who although did not invent the steam engine, significantly improved it by making them commercially viable. Both played a significant role in the industrial revolution which placed Britain at the centre of the world.

Surprises

Writing this was painfully difficult, the more I researched, the more interesting people I found and narrowing it down to this short list was not an easy task. A couple of unexpected finds included David Buick, the founder of the Buick Motor Company in 1903; B.C. Forbes, who founded Forbes magazine in 1917 and John Muir, the naturalist who petitioned Congress for the creation of National Parks. Overall the biggest surprise is just how much Scottish people have impacted American business and society, it seems the that our two countries are inextricably linked. [Update: I also found out that a Scottish businessman, Thomas Glover, was instrumental in the industrialisation of Japan and helped found one of their most famous companies, Mitsubishi.]

Andrew Carnegie still though in my view remains head and shoulders above everyone else. Yes, my opinion is biased, and no doubt highly influenced by my own personal interests in business and philanthropy. That being said, I don’t begrudge the winner of the Greatest Scot poll, which was Robert Burns. I don’t think his poetry has benefitted the world in as obvious a manner as that of Carnegie’s philanthropy, but it has certainly enriched us all and we should be thankful for that. Burns should be grateful to Carnegie as well; just think of all the millions of people world-wide who have been able to access the Scottish Bard’s works at a Carnegie library. This just proves the folly of trying to name just one Greatest Scot when there’s many of them, and hopefully many more to come.

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December 1, 2009

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