Richard Montgomery High School
Third Place Winner, Maryland
George Washington Beats Dr. Dre
In 2015, a report from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that 27 million Americans are starting or running new businesses (Buchanan). With so many people simultaneously pursuing their own commercial interests, it is a wonder any of them stand out. Nevertheless, time and time again the world is reminded of true entrepreneurship. Some entrepreneurs are simply more successful than others; there is no question about it. Where the true question lies, however, is in what makes those great few so much better than their peers. In addition to financial gains, there are other defining factors; those who go down in history as the greatest innovators and businessmen are not always the wealthiest. Great entrepreneurs take risks and fulfill one or more need in society – both qualities emulated by George Washington. Although better known as the first president of the United States, Washington excelled in commercial risk taking and helped society to an extent unparalleled by today’s entrepreneurs. Even Dr. Dre, widely regarded as one of the greatest entrepreneurs alive today, pales in comparison to Washington’s business acumen. Washington embarked upon daring business ventures; some two-hundred years later, Dr. Dre refuses to take a step out of the same industry he has depended on all his professional career. Our esteemed first president profoundly impacted society, both in and out of office; Dr. Dre is yet to present a unique product that legitimately fills a need in society.
The true definition of “entrepreneur” is often disputed, but most interpretations have one criterion in common: risk taking. Steve Tobak, author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow, sums up this common ground perfectly in his article “The True Meaning of ‘Entrepreneur,’” defining a true entrepreneur as “a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.” Tobak adds, “if there’s no real business or risk, you’re not an entrepreneur.” One’s accomplishments are worthless in the scope of entrepreneurship if they are not preceded by risk. Edward Lengel, a professor at the University of Virginia and the author of First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His - and the Nation’s – Prosperity, remarks that Washington viewed the United States as his own business. He undertook arguably the most imposing of business ventures: a whole nation. Through his management, America was introduced to revolutionary systems and institutions such as the national bank (Lengel). Even so, Washington performed some of his most daring fiscal feats outside of office. Robert Wolfe reports that during the 1760s and part of the 1770s, George Washington ventured into a new industry - tobacco. Like most planters at the time, Washington shipped his goods to a merchant warehouse in England to be stored until they were sold. He entrusted this responsibility to Robert Cary and Company, a London-based merchant warehouse (Wolfe). the Soon after venturing into the tobacco business, however, Washington was already encountering indicators of impending failure: he felt that his tobacco was being sold for too low a price; he was making less profit than many fellow planters along the Potomac River (Washington); he was accumulating debt to Robert Cary and Company (Wolfe); and he was frequently sending letters to Cary in which he would enquire about more lucrative resources to invest in (Washington). If George Washington seemed doomed to fail, perhaps it’s because he did. Robert Wolfe reveals that Washington’s partnership with Cary swiftly deteriorated and he abandoned his tobacco enterprise in the 1770s; George Washington, the esteemed first president of the United States, failed at tobacco farming. His tobacco venture was just one of many failures, but is failure not just the residue left behind by risk takers? George Washington’s admirers often overlook (or altogether forget) his blunders, not because they were insignificant, but because they were overshadowed by his many and collectively monumental accomplishments. In an interview produced by the Kauffman Foundation for Khan Academy, Marc Ecko - the founder of Ecko Unlimited - forewarns aspiring entrepreneurs: “it’s going to be lots of little failures that make success.” George Washington succeeded politically, economically and militarily because he first succeeded at failing.
Dr. Dre, on the other hand, played it safe. Freddie Wilcox, an English soccer player, emphasized the importance of risk taking: “progress involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” While Dr. Dre has had huge success in the music industry, it seems that a music veteran is all he will ever be. In 1992, Dre left the rap group N.W.A. and cofounded Death Row Records with Marion “Suge” Knight. In 1996, he left Death Row to form Aftermath Records. In 2008, he co-created Beats Electronics with Jimmy Iovine (a music executive). In 2014, Dre and Iovine launched Beats Music, a music streaming company (“Dr. Dre”). While admirable, these enterprises all have one thing in common: music. His businesses centered around his existing knowledge and influence in the music industry. The risks Dr. Dre took when he invested in a new venture were negligible; each time he started a new business the risk merely lessened. While Dr. Dre gets comfortable on first base, George Washington has already rounded the home plate.
While risk taking is a requisite for great entrepreneurship, any odds overcome (financial or otherwise) in the pursuit of a successful enterprise will be in vain if the end goal has no use in society. When George Washington was elected president in 1789, the United States was massively in debt to the Netherlands and France; Edward Lengel estimates that the amount was approaching trillions of dollars in today’s economy. Just six years into his presidency, however, George Washington had eliminated the nation’s debt to France via careful taxation, currency management, and the establishment of a national bank (courtesy of a system of revolving system of debt repayments he had developed with Alexander Hamilton). In addition to his improvements through economic policy, Washington also took it upon himself to enhance agricultural practices. Although this may not seem an especially profound mission, it certainly was relevant at the time. By the end of the eighteenth century, only six percent of the U.S. population lived in towns with populations greater than 2,500 ("George Washington: The American Franchise"); most Americans made a living by farming. Even so, George Washington - an avid farmer and honorary member of the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture - felt that American farmers still had much to learn ("George Washington and Agriculture"). Consequently, he believed that it was his duty as a wealthy farmer to experiment with novel farming methods. Despite his busy life, Washington made great strides in agricultural reform: he implemented a new seven-field system, which lead to his seven-year crop rotation plan ("George Washington and Agriculture"); he experimented with and was likely the first to construct a building devoted to composting (“Composting”); he urged American farmers - who often began farming new land once their old soil had been exhausted - to refine the farmland they worked on (“George Washington on the Farm,” 1); and he developed an original barn complex unlike the preceding English-style barns it replaced (Pogue). Counter-debt economic policies and various agricultural innovations exemplify George Washington’s countless contributions to society through numerous channels.
Dr. Dre, on the other hand, has done little to advance society through his business ventures. Even Beats Electronics - arguably Dre’s greatest entrepreneurial accomplishment - did little to enhance the music industry. Beats headphones add nothing to the existent plethora of personal listening technology. In his article, “Are Beats by Dr. Dre headphones worth the money?” for Consumer Reports News, James K. Willcox concludes about the headphones: “in almost every category there are lower-priced models that offer the same, and sometimes better, sound quality.” Other than numerous celebrity endorsements, the headphones enjoy an infinitesimal uniqueness.
Fulfilling needs in society and taking risks are essential to the makings of a great entrepreneur. George Washington and Dr. Dre are two iconic entrepreneurs, but they are not equally great in the trade of entrepreneurship. George Washington took risks in his business ventures through sheer willingness to fail in a multitude of industries; Dr. Dre stuck to what he knew and clung to the music industry. George Washington countered national debt and enhanced the farming techniques which most of the nation had been working with; Dr. Dre made headphones, rivaled both in price and quality by numerous other headphones. George Washington established the First National Bank and the foundation for the United States’ economy; Dr. Dre signed artists who will likely be forgotten in a decade. George Washington was not only the greater entrepreneur - he also established what it meant to be a great entrepreneur in America.
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"Dr. Dre." Britannica School. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 7 Aug. 2015. Web. 5 Jan. 2017.
Ecko, Marc. "Marc Ecko - Failures Are Lessons for Future Success." Interview. Khan Academy.
Kauffman Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
"George Washington and Agriculture." The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington. The George Washington Presidential Library, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
"George Washington on the Farm." 4-H Youth Development. Oklahoma State University, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.
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Washington, George. “George Washington to Robert Cary & Company, September 20, 1765, Account Book 1.” 1765. MS. Lib. Of Cong., Washington, D.C. Lib. of Cong. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
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Wolfe, Robert. "Robert Cary and Company." The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington. The George Washington Presidential Library, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.