KEMPER: Be a public entrepreneur

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.


  • River_Tam

    The first thing that Sargent Shriver founded was a group dedicated to keeping America out of World War II. After serving in the war, he then worked for the Kennedys, married into the Kennedy wealth, and rode JFK’s coattails into a position where he could found programs willy-nilly.

    Robert Moses’s dad was a real estate magnate and he was the beneficiary of federal dollars brought in by the New Deal. Some upstart entrepreneur, he was not.

    Founding a government program is not “entrepreneurship”. Wikipedia defines an entrepreneur as “An entrepreneur is an owner or manager of a business enterprise who makes money through risk and initiative”. None of the people you mentioned here risked anything except their political careers. They spent public money to accomplish public goals. Laud-worthy, perhaps (although in Shriver’s case, I question much of it), but entrepreneurship it was not.

    By your definition, every legislator is a “public entrepreneur”.

    If you’re looking for Yale’s Steve Jobs, look at Fredrick Smith ’66 who founded FedEx. Look at Donna Dubinsky ’77 who founded Handspring. Rob Glaser got his BS and MA at Yale and founded realNetworks. Justin Kan ’05 founded Anne Wojcicki ’96 is the founder of 23andMe, one of the most interesting startups in the valley today. And that’s not even mentioning Stephen Schwarzman ’69 who founded The Blackstone Group and who TIME Magazine called in 2007 “the new king of Wall Street”.

    Those are the risk-takers and the entrepreneurs, not some bureaucrat who married the President’s sister.

  • squash

    seriously, ‘tam’, who ARE you? you must have the most boring job in the entire world to be on this site so much

  • River_Tam

    squash, I wonder how boring your life must be if the only two comments you’ve left in the past two weeks on this site have been to accuse me of having a boring job.

    (I like my job, and it’s rarely boring).