The last week in May, I had two reasons to think of my stepfather. It was Memorial Day, and I had surgery on my left wrist.
In November 1944, Almarin Phillips was a 19-year-old soldier whose unit was liberating territory in northern France. The vicious and decisive Battle of the Bulge was a month away. A German bullet shattered Al’s left arm.
He lost the arm, came home, and spent a year in an Army hospital doing rehab. Al led a productive, admirable life up to his passing in 2006.
A few days after Memorial Day, I had surgery to clean up my balky wrist. My left hand was immobile for about a week afterward. It would have been within the bounds of the sense of humor Al and I shared for me to have called him to complain that opening a pickle jar with one hand is kind of difficult.
Al had such facility with one arm that it was easy to forget his infirmity day-to-day. I’ll never forget, though, the habits he learned in that Army hospital and practiced for the next 60 years. The way he tied his shoes. How he cut meat by pressing down hard on the knife with his forefinger. His wobbly but determined crawl stroke in the pool.
Al became an economist. He spent most of his career at the University of Pennsylvania. He got his start as a disciple of the German-Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter and his principle of “creative destruction.” One of the defining ideas of capitalism in the 20th century, creative destruction “refers to the incessant product and process innovation mechanism by which new production units replace outdated ones.”
In other words, government intervention to weaken market leaders or to protect failing business models is almost always unwise. There will always be a better idea. What if government acted in 1950 to protect movie houses against broadcast television? We might not have had cable television. Worried in 1970 that TV would be limit access to movies in the home? Maybe no video cassettes. Blockbuster led to Redbox, which led to Netflix, which led back to cable, which led to multiple streaming services.
This was the talk of our dinner table. I took away a conviction that free market capitalism was not perfect, merely indispensable.
For the past year, my friend Charlie Gifford and I have been doing a podcast called Middle Market Musings. Most of our guests are leaders in private company M&A – principals in private equity funds and investment banks.
We talk about their achievements, but also about the world at large and how our economic system can work better for more people. Invariably, there are stories about how they became connected to a system with a beating heart.
Our most recent guest was Tarrus Richardson, the founder and CEO of IMB Partners in suburban Washington. Tarrus grew up in a family business in Chicago – a bar his parents bought so their children would have an entrepreneurial experience. Tarrus worked in the bar after school. At night, he’d sleep when the music was playing so he could study when the music was off.
Before that, Chris Williams, the co-founder of the Harris Williams investment bank, came in. We asked him what it was like to work with his mentor, the legendary Erskine Bowles. I thought Chris would tell us about a big pitch or defining deal. Instead, he told us about Bowles finding him in the office on a Sunday. Bowles said he knew Chris’s faith was important to him, and that if he had that much work, he needed to speak up. He didn’t want Chris to be missing church to be in the office.
The men and women who fight for this country are defending a lot of things, but I believe that includes this way of life.
The week before Memorial Day, we line our property with small American flags. They stay up through D-Day and Flag Day and now Juneteenth, finally coming down after July 4th.
Every few days a flag gets knocked out of place. We never fix them. Within a day, somebody – a runner, a dog walker – sets the errant flag straight.
I’m happy to share with them the way it feels to be a part of something great.
About the Author
Andy Greenberg is CEO of Greenberg Variations Capital, a mergers & acquisitions advisory firm based in suburban Philadelphia devoted to one-off or targeted transactions. He is also Founder of GF Data© (now an ACG Company) the leading provider of information on private transactions in the $10 million to $500 million value range. For more information, visit www.greenbergvariations.com or www.gfdata.com.
© 2022 Private Equity Professional | June 28, 2022