Suppose you had billions and billions of dollars and wanted to set up a foundation that would really make a real difference in the world?
You could draw up a mission statement as broad as the Pacific. Then put up a skyscraper office full of bright young people with college degrees who talk tech -- high, low and in-between. There'd be a lot of supernumeraries around to get in the way -- all with degrees from prestigious universities and impressive resumes. ("He shows great promise and knows foreign languages -- spreadsheet, broadband and COBOL.")
You might populate the cubicles with statisticians and plant the corner offices with ferns and wise old men in three-piece suits, alternating them with sleek female execs in pantsuits -- veterans of the law and/or corporate life who would know everything about just why nothing could be done. ("It's policy.")
For a model to follow, see the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and what they've accomplished, if you can remember a single blessed thing.
But how would you change things if you really could change things? For starters, you might want to:
-- Change a whole, home-grown industry. Organize it vertically from start to finish. Make the product better, cheaper, more varied, available and useful. Create a worldwide market and employment for millions around the globe. Do business in 57 countries. Do or die, expand or expire.
-- Change a whole part of your state, and, more important, improve the everyday lives of the people who live there, who want to stay there and raise their families there. Give them a reason to stay. Ditto, their children and grandchildren. Instead of having people leave in search of greener pastures, bring the greener pastures to them. Maybe literally.
Meet payrolls all over the state and country and world. And, while you're at it, revive and improve industries quite apart from your own but that prosper because of yours. The way growing soybeans and rice goes with producing chicken. Think chicken-soup-and-rice.
Hire the most talented, innovative managers and doers and hard workers and different thinkers, and then have enough sense to get out of their way. Let them do their remarkably efficent, self-motivated, profitable, productive thing. On an ever greater scale. And just watch your company, your state, your world go. While keeping up with every little thing.
And keep it all a family business by issuing different classes of stock so control is vested in people who have not only a business to think about but a family name to uphold.
Sure, anything that successful isn't going to be without problems -- legal, even ethical ones -- and the feds'll be after you quicker'n you can say Capital Gains or Disclosure Statement. But rise above it. Make your motto: Never have a bad day. Keep taking risks, do the improbable and maybe the impossible.
Don't just give money away; invest it. Especially in the young. Don't lecture but do. Don't tell but show. And stop to play -- hunt, fish, and remember that life is with people. Never put on airs. Always wear khaki except on state occasions, and maybe then. Pal around with politicians only when you absolutely have to, if only to get them to leave your business alone.
Do you suppose you could establish a foundation to do all that? Not very likely. Because there would still be something missing. The most important ingredient. The human being. The single, unique individual. Don Tyson of once little Springdale, Ark., was such an individual and he did all that. Without a government grant. Without a master plan, but step by indefatigable step, innovation after innovation.
He would grow Tyson Foods into an operation with more than $28.4 billion in revenues this year and 115,000 employees worldwide -- 24,448 of them here in Arkansas. Tyson Foods would evolve into something more than a business, more than an institution. But a force for good.
The one thing missing from our theoretical foundation is a real Don Tyson, the one man who makes it all happen. And did. The news of his death the other day at 80 reminds us of what economists may overlook. In their textbooks, in their formulas and graphs and charts, there may be only one thing they don't take into account: the human factor.
The French have a word for it -- entrepreneur -- and it's become an American concept, too, and how. That's what Don Tyson was. And there can be no economic revolution without that one key, very human element that no assembly line ever produced. Quite the reverse. It is the entrepreneur who produces the assembly lines.
I'd better stop now. Don Tyson didn't go for folks who carried on, especially about him. They had to twist his powerful arm to get him to accept one of those honorary degrees from the University of Arkansas, his not-quite alma mater. He left the university to go into the family business he'd grown up in, driving a truck and chasing chickens ever since he was 14. The Tyson name is now all over the university campus at Fayetteville, but not his. The buildings are named for other members of the family. Attention was one thing he never liked to attract. And if there's one word to describe what Don Tyson wasn't, it's effusive. 'Nuff said.