Who were the business superstars of the 1970s?


Last month, we said:

Who are today’s heroes? Not writers or even musicians? No, our pantheon of culture heroes are: rich men, athletes, some movie and TV stars, a few politicians, some offbeat intellectuals like Nate Silver and Nassim Taleb . . .

I guess I should also add social media stars like whoever is getting a million youtube subscribers or twitter followers or whatever.

In many of these categories, you can map back to similar groups of heroes from fifty years ago. Now we have Bernie Sanders, then we had Ronald Reagan. Now we have Tucker Carlson, then we had William F. Buckley. Now LeBron James, then Billie Jean King. Rod Carew has passed on the mantle to Mike Trout, Clint Eastwood has given way to Tom Hanks. Etc.

Two areas where I see a lack of parallelism are music and business.

Back in the 1970s there must have been over 100 major rock stars, each with his or her own distinctive image: just compare Elton John, David Bowie, Gene Simmons, and so forth. Nowadays there are some very popular musicians, but I don’t think they have the same role in society (and, no, I don’t think it’s just that I’m older now myself). Now, music is just music; it doesn’t represent such a large chunk of the culture.

The other difference is that now we have business heroes. It started with Steve Jobs, maybe. Then there was Bill Gates—I remember the enjoyment that people used to show, back in the 90s, just talking about how rich he was. And now there’s whole menagerie of rich people to choose from, including the richest (Gates, Bezos, etc.), the offbeat (Musk, Branson, etc.), Oprah, . . . take your pick.

But back in the 1970s we did not have a class of people who were business heroes. There were occasional famous businessmen, but they did not form a category.

Who were the business superstars of that era? There was Ted Turner. There was Lee Iacocca. And . . . is that it? There must be a few more that I’m forgetting. But not a whole category of them. Steve Jobs and the guy who founded Atari were around in the 70s, but I don’t think they’d reached hero status yet.