# 343: Money or Politics?


Wallace, Janet (2012). The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age, 196.

Story behind the Passage

The day before yesterday when I wrote about Wall Street women, I was quite surprised that I had not written about Hetty Green yet. Or maybe I have and I am simply too stupid to Google my own blog entries. In any case, today I had to think of women in the world of business again and this is how I picked up a book about Green. I think, I have several biographies about her which means that it is quite possible that I wrote about the other book before. So, why her and this topic today?

Hetty was the “Witch of Wallstreet,” the richest woman of America and also one of the most “nasty” ones in a certain way. For sure, with her black dress and her overly determined manners, she did not act the way women were supposed to act in the 19th century. She was a stock trader basically. She had learned to deal with money from an early age but it was not easy for her to get a hold of her father’s inheritance because he, after all, did not see how Hetty could manage finances wisely. In any case, she claimed her rights and made a fortune by trading and managing her funds wisely. Her talent for money making went along with chronical and extreme greediness and, this is where the name comes from, her very straight-forward personality. All this together earned her the name “witch of Wall Street.”

As with all the witch-craft talk, probably only half of it is true. And the part that is usually confused in the context of women like her is that she was quite a tough one. The passage above shows this. “I like to deal with big things and with big men.” Of course, as always, I wonder how it can be that some women — some men as well — just naturally like playing big and others never do, no matter how much you train them and how many opportunities you give them. They just do not enjoy it. But this is not the only reason why I have chosen this particular passage. What is as interesting, especially around this time now when Germans are preparing for the federal elections, is this seeming incompatibility of politics and business.

My Learnings

“I am willing to leave politics to the men.” You might take this to mean that she says this from some submissive or stereotypical perspective of gender roles. But the rest of the passage makes it clear that this is not at all the case. On the contrary, for Hetty, time was always money. So, as she also explains here, for her, politics would have been a waste of time. She wanted to deal with business all the time. And this is also where she saw the worst consequence of the gender imbalance. It is quite strong to read her stance about women’s suffrage. She did not care much. But if women’s suffrage had gotten her and other women a seat on the board of companies, that would have been a “big thing.”

The reason why I am thinking about this question of politics and/or business is because I am hearing so many people from the business side, especially entrepreneurs, who are just like Hetty. They say politics is the dirtiest business ever and they do not want to get involved, even if it gave them some valuable publicity to market their business — at least implicitly. So, in short, people who care mostly about money do not care about politics. That seemsto be the lesson. But if you then look at politicians, you cannot simply apply the same logic. Politicians obviously also care a lot about money. Otherwise, there would not be that much corruption and cheating with improper discretionary earnings. Still, most politicians are not entrepreneurs and do not become entrepreneurs after their active career. This was different in the old days of Benjamin Franklin & Co, of course. These wise men were basically everything in one: statesmen, scientists, entrepreneurs, poets, and many more things.

Back in the old days…

I just see this same analogy when it comes to management and science/research. It just seems that really great managers who have management DNA in their blood are just not suitable for research to that extent. They just do not bother about that level of depth. But you do have researchers who learn good management and can do both. They are rare but some make the leap. So, again, you cannot apply the same logic to both groups. What you can do, however, is at least try to become a better manager to be faster at what you do in your research. This is something I still do not get. I mean, why some people just do not see the practical benefit of management skills. But what I get a lot quicker now is to tell the two personalities apart. Sadly, however, that again leads to a binary which can hardly be dissolved. And it does not have to be, as long as the management talents get to do what they are best at: juggling balls in the air and having fun.

“Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” — Peter Drucker

Reflection Questions

1) Do you agree that business executives, in general, care a lot less about politics in the sense of “becoming politicians”? Why/not?

2) Is being greedy a trait that you see in many wealthy people or rather the opposite, i.e., greed is an obstacle of creating wealth?

3) Do you think that you have to be born as a manager or are there some examples of people who grew into this role but started as really untypical characters for this job?