Entrepreneurial Class Warfare

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Funny I’d remember that line – the closing stanza of Teddy Kennedy’s 1980 Democratic National Convention speech. It came to me as I was thinking about how I’m feeling right now about America’s economy and America’s entrepreneurs, especially after reading another Peggy Noonan Alzheimer-ish Wall Street Journal column in which she ramblingly concludes that we’ve somehow entered a period of permanent economic decline.

I thought of Ted Kennedy’s speech because I sense good things in the works in our economy. Peggy Noonan doesn’t, the American business press doesn’t, a consensus of economists doesn’t, and the President thinks we’re teetering on the edge of catastrophe…but in this cold, dark February morning of our economic retreat, I feel the reassuring turning-over of the economic starter, and the slow, low, strained rumbling of the engine as it prepares to warm up and hit the road again.

Why do I say that?

Not because we haven’t had a terrible ear-boxing from the Crash of ’08. We have. Not because people aren’t hurting and businesses haven’t been suffering. They have. I say it because it seems to me that the emotional depression brought on by economic hard times that’s being reported ad nauseam in the nation’s press seems to have somehow eluded America’s entrepreneurial class.

Far from being sidelined with heads in hands, my travels and conversations with entrepreneurs around our country over the last few weeks suggest that the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die. 

I’m very active in a non-profit group for entrepreneurs under 50 called the Young Presidents Organization. It’s a nearly 60 year old international organization with almost 15,000 members worldwide. Its motto: “Better presidents through education and idea exchange.” I spoke to YPO’s Construction Industry Network the week before last, and then spoke to its Food Industry Network three days ago, then attended a dinner for Denver YPOers two nights ago.

What I found in the 150 or so YPO members assembled in the three groups, as war stories from the economic front were shared, were tales of heavy fire taken and wounds sustained over the past six months – bank lines pulled, revenues dramatically decreased, layoffs ordered, customers folded, investment portfolios whacked.

But I heard no self-pity. None. I heard no suggestions of folding up tents and quitting. None. I heard no nailbiting over the viability of the future, no Noonan-esque sense of the end of an era, no diminution of a sense of potential future abundance, and no signs anywhere of a loss of the American entrepreneurial spirit.

I heard about plans to consolidate industries to reduce costs and gain efficiencies. I heard stories of capital being raised to ride out the storm and take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I heard strategies for hunkering down and reports of business models being changed to better position companies for the future.

In summary, I heard Main Street Entrepreneurial America responding to its Pearl Harbor. An unexpected sneak attack launched against it by a distant enemy – in this case, the financial markets – clearly has caused casualties and rocked it back on its heels. But I can report, first-hand, that its spirit is intact. That its determination is undiminished. That it is readying its forces to march, workmanlike and with quiet confidence, against the Noonanesque nailbiting and the socialist Krugmania that has temporarily seized control of our government.

I work with and talk with these entrepreneurs, these do-ers, every day. They, like many Americans, are some of the best we have to offer. I watch with pride and nervousness for them, feeling the same mix of exhilaration and fear as a parent with a child playing goalie in a field hockey or soccer game. I know they’re going to mix it up. I know they’re going to have a combination of failure and success every time out. And I know that ultimately the love of the game combines with risks well considered and abilities honed through practice to make for a winning combination.

We’re not going down in flames, friends. We’re just getting started. All great economic successes are built on the ashes of a previous conflagration.

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die, Peggy.

Dave Maney is co-founder and chairman of Denver-based investement banking firm Headwaters MB. Here is some video of Dave discussing this post on CNN: