Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Elite of Hard-Working Generalists

The New York Times reported on a gathering of scholars of the Elites Research Network. They are trying to figure out how, exactly, the richest people got that way.

The most sensible view was offered by Sudhir Venkatesh, moderately famous for his turn as "gang leader for a day" that was profiled in Freakonomics and in his own book of that name. He said

“You have to come in accepting that there will always be poor people in society and there will always be wealthy people in society, and neither of the two reached that status by their own efforts.”

The most interesting substantive finding in the article comes from Michael Lindsay's interviews with top corporate leaders. He found that most did not come from big money, nor did they start with a large inheritance. They were likely to have attended top colleges, and a significant proportion went on to Harvard Business School. Lindsay's big finding, though, is that they were generalists who got a big break early.

By being generalists, and looking for opportunities to understand how the whole business worked, they put themselves, I believe, on the path to be presidents. This is the path that Jim Collins identified in the excellent Good to Great of what makes for the best leaders. People who understand the whole operation are more likely to become the head of any organization, large or small. Those who understand the largest and most profitable companies thereby also become, whether they aim to or not, part of the national elite.

1 comment:

postzoom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.