Upon hearing the word “entrepreneur”, we associate the skills and talents of these individuals with the “kind of stuff” needed to create a business or an industry and to bring about solid economic growth. They are the people who turn a vision into a reality, create jobs, make the products, and get them into our hands.
Entrepreneurs are agents of change, able to use their leadership and team building capabilities to bring new products and services to the world, often leaving a very changed world in their wake. We think instantly of such contemporary figures as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Joseph Schumpeter, the great economist, felt that entrepreneurs create and/or implement: new products; new production methods; new markets; and new forms of organization…perhaps not all at the same time, but have a strong hand in one or more of these activities.
Along with the recent re-emergence of the term entrepreneur, the media is talking about Thomas Edison again, as the guy whose indomitable spirit we need to once more extol, apply in the workplace, and teach in the classrooms. Edison is the perfect role model because he tended to do all four of the things Schumpeter associates with entrepreneurship. Edison is the double play guy, because he was also the seminal element in creating the inventions that lead to entrepreneurial actions.
Edison moves his base of operations from his early Menlo Park labs to his new West Orange labs, in direct response to his desire to capstone his inventive activities with a strong manufacturing base; to bring new products by his own hand to the world. At West Orange, he refined his early R&D project team invention philosophy pioneered at Menlo Park and ramped it vertically. He then connects it to manufacturing, creating a strong business thrust, a template for creating economic growth and hence that elusive thing we call “progress”.
Edison created full blown industries along with the necessary components and subsystems to make those industries work…electric distribution (utilities); music industry (phonograph); and, motion pictures. In doing this, Edison creates the very modern industrial organization-even pioneering such things as critical path techniques, exploded model diagrams and engineering storyboards, inter-disciplinary product development teams, centralized storerooms to support invention, a corporate library and information-rich workplace, and tops this all off with his own advertising and public relations. He builds a bridge from his native strength of invention to industrial research labs and commercialization, becoming the very poster boy for entrepreneurship.
Over 10,000 people were employed at the West Orange Lab and factory complex. From his library office, Edison managed some 30 companies…all under the banner-head of Thomas A. Edison Industries. Edison realized enough revenue and profits from the sale of his products and the licensing of his technologies to finance his next inventions.
Thomas Edison, inventor and true entrepreneur.
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