To succeed in football and in business, I worked with a lot of people. I learned how to figure out who the great people were, people who were doing the right thing, people with great ethics who I could trust and learn a lot from. I also learned how to identify people who weren’t trying to do the right thing.
It’s very important in business to be able to tell the difference, because a great mentor like Sam Walton, Bernie Marcus, of Robert Woodruff can have a monumental impact, but a bad influence can cause big problems.
This political season, there has been one business name that has been demonized and vilified above all others: the Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries.
They have been demonized as right-wing zealots, and I’ve even seen the work of conservative scholars tossed out and dismissed just because their organization has some connection to the Koch brothers.
The kneejerk attacks and venom that comes out whenever their names are even mentioned really bothers me, and it’s a sign of just how poisonous our political atmosphere is. I don’t know the Koch brothers personally, but I know people who do, and who know them well. And I’ve also been able to observe the things they do, and the way they conduct themselves publicly.
Everything I’m seeing and hearing tells me that these are exemplary business leaders who we should be celebrating, not attacking.
Start by looking at how Koch Industries grew to become the juggernaut it is today. The family patriarch, Fred Koch, built the company on an innovative process he developed in the oil business.
Then his sons grew the company the right way. They didn’t cozy up to the government for subsidies, handouts, or preferential treatment.
Instead, they came up with great ideas that solved problems in the lives of people, ideas that provided real value. Their business empire was built on innovation, reinvention, and hard work, not cronyism. I greatly admire that! And they’ve donated millions to medical research and the arts, among other causes.
Now, the Koch brothers are more known for the money they spend on political activities. They fund a variety of think tanks and organizations, all dedicated to promoting free market practices and small government. And that is where they are demonized and tarred and feathered by their political opponents.
From everything I have ever seen, what is remarkable is that none of their political activities are dedicated to cronyism, setting their company up for a big windfall if it wins the debate. Rather, they are advocating for more competition, reduced barriers to entry for new players, and less connection between the boardroom and the DC halls of power, not a special place at the table.
The only reason for doing that is because they really believe in it. Why should we demonize people who deeply believe in something and do whatever they can to promote it?
If the Koch brothers spent millions of dollars on politicians who would subsidize their products and outlaw their competitors, that would be wrong. But instead, they advocate for an end to market distortions, government interventions in the private sector, and cronyism in general.
They’re not trying to get more of the government pie; they just really believe they have a vision to help America, because they love this country and the values it stands for.
The truth is that everything we have in this country is because of entrepreneurs, large and small. From the corner store up to the most successful business people — whether conservatives like the Koch brothers, liberals like Steve Jobs at Apple, or libertarians like Jeff Bezos of Amazon — the great wealth of this country comes from people helping other people by creating value.
Without value, when businesspeople are just in it for themselves and don’t care about value, only about accruing benefits to themselves, everything falls apart — including the business itself!
Those who do create value are the reason we have the great society we have. Since their business began, the Koch brothers have been part of the value-creating class, not the crony class of business owners.
So why do we vilify people who represent the greatness of America? Is it just because they have different political beliefs? It’s time to stop demonizing people who do things the right way and generate tremendous wealth — and value to all Americans.
Those are the people we should celebrate, whether you agree with their politics or not!
If we want to preserve America as the great place it is, we need more entrepreneurs, more innovators — and a free market to foster them.
And in case you’re wondering, the Koch brothers did not approve this message.
Fran Tarkenton is the Founder and CEO of OneMoreCustomer.com, a web resource for Small Business Advocacy and Education. After his Hall of Fame football career, Fran had a successful career in television and then turned to business. He has founded and built more than 20 successful companies and now spends his time coaching aspiring entrepreneurs. Read more reports from Fran Tarkenton — Click Here Now.
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