Earlier this month, Michael Holkesvik took the example of Steve Jobs to caution us against choosing the path into finance and consulting merely for its security (“Steve Jobs as career counselor,” Oct. 10). He dared Yale to be willing to “give a pass to the established career paths and start your own company.”
In short: Yale, be more entrepreneurial.
I couldn’t agree more. Our world is filled with great institutions, but when the institutions we have are inadequate, we should be willing to create. But being an entrepreneur isn’t just about creating the next Apple or the next Facebook. Let’s free ourselves of a narrow perception of entrepreneurship as only starting a private business in the pursuit of monetary profit.
Rather, some of Yale’s most innovative graduates have expressed their entrepreneurial spirit through public service.
Take William Phelps Eno, class of 1884. Eno created a whole new realm of government: traffic safety. He drafted the world’s first traffic safety codes. He invented the crosswalk and the one-way street. He created the stop sign. Not a day goes by that we do not benefit from Eno’s entrepreneurship in government.
Sargent Shriver, class of 1938, was a serial public service entrepreneur. He created Head Start, Upward Bound and Legal Services, shaping a new role for America’s government at home, and he founded the Peace Corps, redefining the role of American citizens overseas. Shriver left behind a dozen new organizations and a different American government.
Robert Moses, class of 1909, “the master builder,” spun off a variety of innovative government authorities to improve New York City. His Triborough Bridge Authority with its hundreds of millions in revenue would be the envy of a Silicon Valley start-up, and, another classic serial entrepreneur, Moses created and ran it along with a half dozen other agencies. Every one of those positions was created by laws he drafted. He created successful public companies because he believed we should think about governments differently, and, by profoundly changing the American landscape, his ideas profoundly changed the way we live. If you’re looking for a Yale Steve Jobs, look no further than Robert Moses.
Eno, Shriver and Moses are just three of many examples of Yale entrepreneurs in public service.
When existing government structures have proved insufficient, Yalies have stepped up time and again to remake them. From the shortcomings of the United Nations to the inadequacy of fragmented contemporary municipal governments, now is a time when the world needs that Yale entrepreneurial spirit more than ever.
I can’t wait to see what the next batch of Yale public service entrepreneurs will create.