It is also no accident that the list includes only one woman, Estee Lauder, and only one industry, cosmetics, in which other women--including Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and Mary Kay Ash--also flourished as entrepreneurs. And although this issue includes an article on an influential black entrepreneur, no people of color make our Top 20. Through most of this century, American business has been dominated by men, white men, despite more than 25 years of modern feminism and some ambitious corporate efforts to achieve racial equality. The next century will certainly be different, although I don't see meaningful change coming soon enough. Yes, our sister publication Fortune recently assembled a credible list of the 50 most powerful women in business. But only two women head companies included in Fortune's annual list of America's 500 largest firms. Meanwhile, many of America's most talented female executives, tired of trying to fit into the boys' clubs, are leaving large corporations to start their own businesses. The statistics on African Americans and other racial minorities are, if anything, even more dismal. The diversity of America's population and the entry of women into the workplace give the U.S. an important competitive advantage over other countries. But that advantage will be squandered if our largest corporations don't figure out how to benefit from these resources more fully.
Financiers, including A.P. Giannini (Bank of America) and Charles Merrill (Merrill Lynch), make our list, but some might argue that finance is underrepresented, since it was the availability of capital, as much or more than individual genius or initiative, that so often created the conditions for business success. By that measure, Drexel Burnham's Michael Milken, who raised billions for the likes of Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch and MCI Corp., should be included, notwithstanding his conviction for violating securities laws and his time spent in jail. Other financial innovators who changed the way we spend and save might also have made the list, including Dee Hock, a little-known businessman who brought the Visa credit card to prominence, and Peter Lynch, who as head of Fidelity's Magellan Fund was America's most successful money manager.
J.P. Morgan, a titan of the 19th century who helped set the stage for the 20th (see following article), acted in his day as a cross between today's Federal Reserve Board and the Goldman Sachs' mergers-and-acquisitions department, providing the money and acumen needed to launch the prototypes of modern industrial corporations. Under Morgan's leadership, this century began much as the 19th century ended, with heavy industry--steel, rails, electricity, and oil--ascendant. Automobiles were in short supply until 1913, when Henry Ford introduced the assembly line and mass production, making ours a consumer as well as an industrial society. As the century progressed, the service economy began to compete with industry as fortunes were made in soft drinks (Coca-Cola), processed foods (Heinz), insurance (Travelers, AIG) and retail (Sears, Wal-Mart). The information age began in the 1920s, when Walt Disney, Louis B. Mayer and the rest of Hollywood began to build businesses of scale. But it wasn't until the 1950s, with the emergence of television as a mass medium, and the two most recent decades, with the computer's coming of age, that information has replaced manufacturing as the primary source of growth. In fact, it is really too soon to pass judgment on most of the information age's brightest lights, among them Apple's Steve Jobs, America Online's Steve Case and Netscape's Marc Andreessen,
who may wind up contributing even more to the 21st century than to the 20th.
Nor do we honor economists here, preferring to include them in a subsequent issue devoted to scientists and thinkers. But surely our nation and the world would be less strong today, and many of our most famous business leaders would seem less prescient, absent the guidance of the Federal Reserve Board's Alan Greenspan. John Maynard Keynes, who convinced us of the value of fixed exchange rates and the need to use deficit financing to spend our way out of recessions, had tremendous influence over economic policy through the Depression and in the years after World War II. Although his name is back in vogue as many nations cope with the most serious economic crisis since the Depression, my own vote for economist of the century goes to Milton Friedman, whose books, including Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose (written with his wife Rose), articulate the importance of free markets and the dangers of undue government intervention.
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Visit the TIME 100 site: 20 top Builders and Titans
December 7, 1998
BUILDERS AND TITANS
Capitalism not only won, it turned into a marvelous machine of prosperity, led by people who could take an idea and turn it into an industry
America's kindly uncle ruthlessly redrew the world
He didn't dream up the future, but he took advantage of it
Sony's chairman made "Made in Japan" a proud label
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TIME.com's special report on 20 top tycoons and innovators