The Nebraska Business Hall of Fame

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Last week, I was honored to be admitted into The Nebraska Business Hall of Fame, an award established by The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry to recognize Nebraska business leaders who have meaningfully contributed to Nebraska’s economy and business environment.

I was delighted to have my wife, my sons Peter and Todd, my Grandson Roscoe, and some of the folks who helped me to build Ameritrade join me for this special evening.  It was also fun hearing the stories of the other inductees.

But most of all, I enjoyed hearing from the young people to whom the Chamber of Commerce awarded scholarships.  The enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit of these young men and women were inspiring.  It’s not easy addressing a room filled with 500+ business leaders and the State’s Governor, but these budding entrepreneurs did so with a poise that filled me with optimism for the future.

Trump’s China Policy Rightly Challenges Conventional Wisdom

One of the theories at the heart of American foreign policy has been that economic liberalization leads to political liberalization. After all, to become an attractive trading partner, you have to have a positive business climate, which requires private property protections, the rule of law and a stable political system.

A related theory holds that democracies do not go to war with other democracies. Free nations tend to get along with each other. If these free nations are also trading partners, they have an even greater incentive to keep the peace rather than risk disturbing their commercial activities.

Over the last 70 years, America has opened up the world to trade, creating new markets for our goods and services while also leading millions of people at home and abroad out of poverty. In addition to spreading capitalism around the world, we have stood as a beacon of liberty for all who want to be free, and triumphed over tyrannical powers such as the Soviet Union.

In many cases these policies have been a boon to peace and prosperity, creating new trading partners and allies, and freeing and increasing the living standards of countless individuals. In short, these policies have served America’s national interest – with one notable exception.

During February of 1972, President Richard Nixon made his historic trip to China, marking the first time a U.S. president had visited the People’s Republic, and the dawn of a new age.

In the middle of the Cold War, the anti-Communist U.S. and Maoist China began a relationship that would come to center primarily on trade and finance, dramatically altering the global economy and geopolitics for the next four decades.

Little appreciated is how generous the U.S. was to grant China access to the global economic Bretton Woods system that America had built. After World War II, it was America that led the major monetary, regulatory and financial institutions that facilitated global commerce, and protected these global economic bonds through ensuring freedom of passage in the world’s shipping lanes and other arteries. In addition to creating the deepest and most diverse economy in the world – benefiting all of America’s trading partners – it was America that developed the advanced technologies that revolutionized industry, leading to quantum leaps in productivity worldwide. Too, it was chiefly America that sought to contain, deter and ultimately defeat the Communist menace that threatened not only economic freedom but freedom itself. If Communism were to have spread over the world, trade, among many other things, would have collapsed.

The U.S. has reaped many economic benefits as a trading partner with China. But China has become a global power by gaining access to the dynamic and robust economic system, and relatively free, safe and secure world that America has made.

China, in short, can thank the U.S. for creating the environment that allowed China to flourish. But it has not.

In the process of China’s boom, the U.S.-China relationship has unfolded in a way that contradicts the theories at the heart of American foreign policy, with very negative consequences.

China has taken advantage of its favored status as an American trading partner through manipulating its currency, stealing sensitive technology and valuable intellectual property and imposing unfair trade barriers, regulations and restrictions. Our trade with China has ended up neither free nor equal. None of this is to mention the related hardships that have befallen those Americans working in industries undercut by or outsourced to China.

Meanwhile, China has not reformed its political system. It remains a Communist nation that challenges America in its “near abroad” and globally, all while backing regimes hostile to us. As Chinese leader Xi Jinping has further consolidated his power, China has become less politically free, more combative towards the U.S. and increasingly aggressive in expanding its sphere of influence through its “One Belt, One Road” initiative and other activities from the South China Sea to Africa and beyond.

One of the centerpieces of President Donald Trump’s campaign platform was that China has taken advantage of us, and it must stop.

We are now starting to see the president’s views become policy.

The Trump administration’s newly released National Security Strategy reads in part:

The United States helped expand the liberal economic trading system to countries that did not share our values, in the hopes that these states would liberalize their economic and political practices and provide commensurate benefits to the United States. Experience shows that these countries distorted and undermined key economic institutions without undertaking significant reform of their economies or politics.  They espouse free trade rhetoric and exploit its benefits, but only adhere selectively to the rules and agreements. [i]

You can bet this paragraph was not missed in Beijing.

Nor was it ignored in Washington, D.C., as what the Trump administration is asserting flies in the face of what our “experts” have been arguing for over 40 years regarding China. This is another example of President Trump’s willingness to ruffle their feathers – his policies call into question the wisdom of the political establishment, and therefore threaten their authority.

What actions specifically has China taken hostile to American interests? The Strategy notes:

…China is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda. China’s infrastructure investments and trade strategies reinforce its geopolitical aspirations. Its efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability. China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there. China presents its ambitions as mutually beneficial, but Chinese dominance risks diminishing the sovereignty of many states in the Indo-Pacific. States throughout the region are calling for sustained U.S. leadership in a collective response that upholds a regional order respectful of sovereignty and independence. [ii]

It is vital that the Trump administration acknowledged China’s malign efforts in a document of this importance.

First, it sends a signal to the Chinese that we understand their goals and strategies for achieving them, something critical when dealing with any competitor.

Second, it sends a signal to China that our “kindness” to this point should not be mistaken for weakness, nor should our inability or unwillingness to hold China to account be expected to continue.

Adversaries respect strength and resolve. China’s actions in recent years have indicated they believed we were lacking in both.

The Trump administration’s China course-correction indicates a measure of strength and resolve that has been missing. It could lead to a needed rebalancing in a relationship that has become all too one-sided.

[i] (Page 17)

[ii] (Page 46)

Trump’s Tax Reform Plan is About Making America Great Again for the Middle Class

America has always been a nation that rewards entrepreneurship and hard work.

When you combine a society of dreamers and doers with a dynamic free market economic system, you get a magic formula for creating wealth, and with it bettering people’s lives.

This increased living standard is a byproduct of the goods, services and technologies we bring to market.

Taxes are a necessary evil in this equation. From the perspective of the businessman, taxes retard growth and investment. Taxes mean less profit, which means less money that can be plowed back into enterprises to fuel their growth and reward their employees.

From the perspective of the individual and family, taxes mean less money in our pockets.

The main economic benefit of taxes is that that they pay for the goods and services provided by government, including our national defense, and the infrastructure that enables commerce. More broadly, stable, fiscally responsible governments mean less risk, which makes for a more attractive investment climate.

With this in mind, President Donald Trump is uniquely in tune with both the needs of the businessman and the citizen – of the macroeconomy and the people who comprise it. He has direct experience with the negative impact of high corporate tax rates as a real estate mogul, and ran for office to help Make America Great Again in part by tilting our system back towards the “forgotten man,” the people who make up the great American middle class that the Washington elite have all too often ignored.

In the time since the Great Recession, Main Street has seen Wall Street get a bailout. Meanwhile, as has been one of President Trump’s major focuses, American industry has been hollowed out, devastating large parts of the country. The end result has been growing economic inequality.

The president’s domestic agenda is all about bringing balance and fairness back to our nation. On the economic front, he wants greater wealth creation for all Americans, and intends to put the interests of American citizens first.

The president’s tax reform plan should be seen as one part of this more comprehensive vision.

Contrary to what the president’s critics have argued, the tax plan is all about removing sand from the gears of our powerful economic engine – creating more wealth for the vast majority of Americans – and giving Americans relief by letting them keep more of the money they earn.

Reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent is not about making the rich richer, but growing the middle class. First, a lower corporate tax rate makes America a more attractive place to invest capital. Greater investment in American businesses means more money to expand operations and spur research and development. The end result? More jobs, higher wages and better goods and services at lower prices. Lower tax rates will not only incentivize foreign investors to invest in the American economy, but incentivize American companies who have kept trillions of dollars overseas in lower tax countries to bring those funds back to our shores to re-invest.

Second, a lower corporate tax rate means greater profits, which again, businesses will use to expand their operations, hire more workers and increase wages.

Research shows by the way that corporate taxes are practically all passed on to employees – that is, salaries and wages are reduced to compensate for higher taxes. Higher corporate tax rates punish employees, not executives. Lower corporate taxes therefore do the opposite, rewarding employees.

The changes to the personal income tax brackets are also about helping the middle class, lowering their rates while getting rid of many of the loopholes and deductions that upper income earners can afford. While wealthy people on the coasts may be upset, economic policy has disproportionately benefited them for decades. If they are upset about not being able to deduct more of their state and local taxes, their real bone to pick should be with their state and local representatives who impose such high taxes, not with the federal government. Meanwhile, according to three different studies representing researchers across the political spectrum, on average, the tax bill is projected to reduce the tax burdens of every income group.

President Trump’s tax reform plan is about striking a balance between and leveling the playing field for all Americans. This is essential for both our economic growth and social unity.

An economy that grows without an expanding middle class and increasing wages is an unhealthy economy, and contributes to class warfare in our politics that poisons the country.

Trump’s tax reform plan will set us on the road to a stronger economy and a more united society by making America great again for the great American middle class.

Attacks on President Trump Show the Political Class Has Learned Nothing

The spat between President Donald Trump and Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) reveals a great deal about how little the political class has learned from the president’s election, and just how out of touch with the American people it remains.

Nearly 63 million citizens, red and blue alike, voted for President Trump as a populist, bull in a china shop, change candidate. His election over 16 accomplished primary opponents and a Clinton machine backed by practically all of the media and popular culture represented a remarkable rejection of the country’s political elite.

Part of what the American people rejected was the agenda of the Washington D.C. “smart set.” The “forgotten men and women” who voted for President Trump held career politicians responsible for disasters foreign and domestic, from the wars they often sent other people’s children to die in, to the immigration policies and trade deals they cut that millions of Americans felt violated their sovereignty and cost them their jobs. Simply put, the public felt that under presidents Democrat and Republican its interests were not taken into account, or worse directly attacked. While the lives of millions of Americans got worse, they saw the lives of elites getting better – the politicians grew more powerful and their cronies richer.

Trump’s victory was a promise to the people to drain this “swamp.” He promised these forgotten Americans a seat at the bargaining table. Business as usual was over. So too was the political correctness that Americans had grown sick and tired of. The people wanted representatives who were honest in calling things the way they saw them, and weren’t afraid to ruffle feathers.

Naturally, in the months since President Trump’s election, those who had done well under the political status quo have fought the president’s agenda tooth and nail. And they might dislike the president’s style even more than his substance.

The “resistance” to the president includes members of his own party. Republican Sen. Bob Corker’s bout with President Trump over his approach to foreign policy, among other things, are just the latest indicator that the D.C. elite cannot come to terms with President Trump’s victory or what it represented.

Sen. Corker, a high-ranking member of the senate when it comes to foreign policy, in a recent interview pleaded with President Trump to “leave it [foreign policy] to the professionals…” i.e. turn over the keys to the “experts” in his cabinet, and Congressmen like himself. Perhaps Sen. Corker forgot that President Trump’s advisors serve at his pleasure, and their job is to execute his agenda – which is the agenda the American people voted for.

Sen. Corker also disrespectfully referred to the White House as an “adult day care center.” He said he “hope[s] the staff over there [at the White House] would figure out ways of controlling” the president. It is this very condescension that the president’s voters rejected in electing him. And the idea that the president shouldn’t be free to speak his mind – something the American people rewarded him for with their votes – further illustrates Sen. Corker’s disdain for their wishes.

The senator’s view is also inconsistent with the system of government our Founders envisioned. Many have argued that the ideal was for government to be populated by citizen legislators, who humbly served and faithfully represented their communities, and then went back to their families and jobs. There is evidence for this view. As James Madison recorded in his Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Rhode Island’s Roger Sherman said that “Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of Govt. they would acquire the habits of the place which might differ from those of their Constituents.” Roger Sherman, like Donald Trump, was anti-swamp.

Relatedly, and more importantly, the Founders argued that the legitimacy of government hinged upon the consent of the governed. In a republic, politicians are supposed to represent the people, not become consumed by the trappings of their office. Does a political class dead-set on thwarting President Trump’s agenda – thwarting the agenda Americans voted for – seem like it’s doing a good job of representing them?

Now we should not be surprised that the president is encountering all of this resistance. Whether in business or politics, bureaucracies are resistant to change agents because bureaucrats care most about retaining their power — keeping the gravy train going. But it is those who come at problems from a fresh perspective, the “disruptors” who challenge conventional wisdom, that are essential to ensuring dynamism and growth. Doing the same thing again over and over again, and in the estimation of millions of Americans failing them, defines insanity.

The Trump candidacy was about taking a sledgehammer to the political establishment. The American people preferred the successful businessman to the credentialed career politicians and bureaucrats.

Just like a business that fails to serve its customers well, a political system that fails to serve its citizens must be shaken up, or face certain disaster. For millions of Americans, President Trump was a response to this impending disaster. Politicians like Sen. Corker ought to figure out ways to support the people’s agenda, rather than attacking their change agent.

Some Banks Are Too Small to Succeed

At a time when there’s much focus on what divides us, it’s easy to forget that most people agree on some things. Chief among these is our hope for a strong economy that produces opportunity. And while those on the left and right have different ideas about how to get there, virtually everyone agrees that a vibrant pipeline of new businesses creating new jobs and innovation is at the core of it.

But what’s at the core of new business creation? Entrepreneurs. You know, those stubborn dreamers who can’t help but imagine how the world should be and then try to build businesses that move in that direction. Yet even though entrepreneurs can be found throughout the U.S., the capital they need for new businesses has become increasingly concentrated in a few large geographic markets. A 2017 study by the Economic Innovation Group found that the “extreme concentration of these vital sources of capital into a few hubs means much of the country’s entrepreneurial potential remains latent in underserved and overlooked regional ecosystems.”

Historically, community banks—those with less than $10 billion in assets—have been the primary source of lending to new businesses in rural communities. In bankrolling rural entrepreneurs, community banks possessed a key advantage: They knew the character of their borrowers. This personal relationship permitted budding entrepreneurs in areas largely outside the venture-capital ecosystem to gain access to the capital they needed to open a beauty salon, a restaurant or a plumbing business.

Unfortunately, the crush of regulations that followed the 2008 financial crisis has required community banks to pull back from character-based loans. A 2015 Harvard working paper found that since 2010, when regulations increased on these institutions, community-bank lending to small businesses has rapidly declined. Rather than hire loan officers, community banks have been forced to hire compliance officers charged with applying regulatory rules, originally developed for money-center banks, to small institutions. As one small lender told The Wall Street Journal, “When they created ‘too big to fail,’ they also created ‘too small to succeed.’ ”

The reduction in character-based lending by community banks doesn’t just mean fewer Waffle House franchises and beauty salons employing people in small-town America. Because of the internet, business location is less important than ever. In other words, an entrepreneur in rural Georgia who might have previously opened a new retail store, today might start the next . But she could only start that disruptive business with access to capital.

Solving this problem will require a combination of approaches, including legislative initiatives like the Investing in Opportunity Act’s plan to promote investment in distressed communities through tax incentives. But cleaning up the regulatory mess is an obvious place to start. Community banks should be governed by different regulations, enforced by different regulators, than those at money-center financial institutions, ones who understand the unique risks small institutions face.

With less regulation, community banks could devote a portion of their capital to small-business lending that generates jobs, innovation and growth. There’s an entire group of potential entrepreneurs whose ideas have yet to be unlocked. Who knows how far-reaching their innovation might be, if given the chance?

Mr. Ricketts is the founder of TD Ameritrade and now pursues various entrepreneurial and philanthropic projects, including Entrepreneurs Create Jobs.

(Read the full Op-ed by Joe Ricketts in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)

The Heartbreaking Opioid Crisis

There are two crises occurring in America that demand our attention.

The first involves substance abuse. In 2015, 27 million people reported that they used illegal drugs or abused prescription drugs. More Americans are dying per year from drug overdoses — over 60,000 people last year — than from traffic accidents or gunshots. The biggest killer? Opioids. One survey shows that millions of Americans are using opioids for nonmedical reasons each month. So many people are using and abusing these pain killers that a White House panel recently labeled it a “national public health emergency.”

The second involves a massive glut of prime working-age Americans — those who are 25 to 54 years old — who have dropped out of the workforce. There are 7 million prime age men alone no longer looking for work. America has the lowest workforce participation rate for prime age men of any developed country besides Italy. The situation is grim for women too. Current work rates for prime age women have fallen back to where they were a generation ago in the late 1980s.

Tragically, these two crises are interrelated.

Almost half of the 7 million prime working-age men who have dropped out of the workforce report that they take pain medication. Among those who collect disability benefits, rates are much higher.

You might be asking yourself: How is it that people who are unemployed can pay for pain killers?

The answer is that you, me and our neighbors are bankrolling them with our tax dollars.

Here is how it works, as described by Sam Quinones in his book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic:

[The Medicaid card] pays for medicine—whatever pills a doctor deems that the insured patient needs. Among those who receive Medicaid cards are people on state welfare or on a federal disability program known as SSI. . . . If you could get a prescription from a willing doctor…Medicaid health-insurance cards paid for that prescription every month. For a three-dollar Medicaid co-pay, therefore, addicts got pills priced at thousands of dollars, with the difference paid for by U.S. and state taxpayers. A user could turn around and sell those pills, obtained for that three-dollar co-pay, for as much as ten thousand dollars on the street.

So, we have highly addictive pain killers, millions of Americans — many of whom are out of work — who use and abuse them, and we are subsidizing their addiction.

The tragedy of substance abuse has a series of terrible effects.

First is the heartbreaking devastation that drug addiction wreaks on individuals and their families. The unbearable suffering of our fellow Americans cannot be measured. In a time in which family breakdown has already grown to chronic levels, drug addiction simply adds to the strains this places on families and communities. It is a societal disaster.

Second is the macro impact that drug addiction has in terms of our economic dynamism. Simply put, drug addiction kills our drive and entrepreneurial spirit. Economists argue that the opioid crisis is reducing the number of people looking for jobs. There are all sorts of negative consequences to leaving the workforce for individuals, their families and communities. Among those who are employed, some businesses are reporting decreased productivity due to opioid usage or family problems created by relatives who use.

One study suggests that unemployment positively correlates with opioid deaths and overdoses – that is, higher unemployment rates equal more opioid-related tragedies. Could it be then that the employment picture is not as rosy as we think? Remember, the unemployment rate we hear in the news does not count the millions of people who are no longer looking for work. If the last economic crisis resulted in hundreds of thousands or even millions of people who turned to pain killers and are no longer seeking out work, today’s lower unemployment rates years later may be masking a drug-related crisis.

Morally, the opiate crisis is a blight on our nation’s soul.

To solve this crisis will require major efforts on prevention and treatment that span from caring and generous everyday Americans, to churches and other spiritual institutions, to doctors, and policymakers.

The stakes are too great not to do everything we can to cure this epidemic.

Americans should demand nothing less.

The Single-Parent Household Epidemic

The social science experts tell us there are three simple rules to live by to reach the middle class: 1) Graduate at a minimum from high school. 2) Get a full-time job. 3) Wait until you are at least 21 to get married and have kids.

This last rule deserves your attention because parents are increasingly breaking it, tragically setting their children up to fail.

Out of wedlock birth rates are spiraling out of control. To show you just how much the country has changed during my lifetime, in 1965 the birth rate for unmarried women was under 8%. By 2015, the rate had risen to over 40%.

The children of out of wedlock births are frequently raised in poor, single-parent households, which puts them at a major disadvantage in life. We are talking about millions of kids being negatively impacted here. 31% of children today are not living in two-parent households, most of whom are being raised by single mothers. The poverty rate for single-mother families in 2016 was over 35%, five times the rate of married-couple families.

What happens to those born out of wedlock and raised by single mothers? Simply put, a vicious cycle of generational poverty where the American Dream gets further and further out of reach.

The research shows that those born out of wedlock are at a greatly increased risk of health, developmental, emotional and behavioral issues at all stages of life.

These issues contribute to poorer school performance, increased odds of drug and alcohol usage and a greater propensity to engage in violent or criminal behavior.

The end result is that it is very hard for such children to follow the three simple rules to enter the middle class – they get stuck in the same trap as their parents.

Consider the plight of kids born out of wedlock:

  • The odds of dropping out of high school rather than graduating increase.

  • It may be harder to attain a job — even if graduating from high school — if such individuals made poor grades, had substance abuse issues and/or a criminal record.

  • As adults, such individuals may be deemed less desirable or uncommitted partners, due to lack of employment, or any of the other issues mentioned; therefore, it becomes more likely that they too will have children without getting married.

In the end then, the next generation will have to deal with the same problems over again.

The proof is in the pudding: Children living in single-parent homes are 50 percent more likely to experience poverty as adults relative to children from intact married homes.

The importance of the nuclear family just cannot be emphasized enough.

One thing I have yet to mention is that if you are a struggling single mother or otherwise finding it difficult to make ends meet, you are likely to turn to welfare programs for support.

There is a cost to these benefits. Dependency on the state hurts personal growth by making one dependent, and often saps individuals of their morale and dignity.

FDR put it best in his 1935 State of the Union Address during the Great Depression – an address it is hard to imagine any prominent Democrat delivering today:

Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.

This is why the “workfare” reform passed in the ‘90s – and gutted during the Obama years – which tied government assistance to employment, was so positive.

It might shock you to know that our government actually perpetuates the vicious cycle I have described by incentivizing the formation of single-parent households through the way it structures benefit programs.

Did you know that there are marriage penalties built into means-tested welfare programs, from food stamps and public housing, to day care and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families?

As one study explains it:

The current welfare system may be conceptualized best as a system which offers each single mother … a “paycheck.”… She will continue to receive her “paycheck” as long as she fulfills two conditions: (1) she must not work; and (2) she must not marry an employed male…. [Welfare] has converted the low-income working husband from a necessary breadwinner into a net financial handicap. It has transformed marriage from a legal institution designed to protect and nurture children into an institution that financially penalizes nearly all low-income parents who enter into it. [i]

It is simply immoral that our government would condemn future generations to hardship and poverty through these programs.

It is an American Nightmare to think that every day children are being born with the odds stacked against them.

If we want to fix this issue as a society, we need to rethink our priorities.

We need to change our culture to one that emphasizes the nuclear family, and responsible parenting.

We need to get government out of the business of discouraging nuclear family formation.

The American Dream must be in reach for every child.


[i] See The Heritage Foundation’s study “Why Expanding Welfare Will Not Help the Poor.”

Celebrating America’s Spirit of Generosity

Generosity has always been an essential part of what it means to be an American.

From banking billionaires to barkeeps, we have viewed material success as a means to do good for our families and communities, rather than an end.

Thanks to democratic capitalism — where businesses go belly-up if they don’t create goods and services that people want at a price they can afford, and jobs that fulfill and enrich — the process of creating that wealth does tremendous good by itself.

Too often we ignore the wonder of this free enterprise system.

It is this system that enabled Americans to give an estimated $390bn to U.S. charities in 2016. To put that number in perspective, last year our country gave more money to philanthropic causes than the entire gross domestic product of Austria. It goes without saying that we are the most charitable people in the world.

A large portion of this giving was and is funded directly by wealthy individuals and indirectly by institutions they have founded and supported. According to the Almanac of American Philanthropy, the so-called “one percent” make more than one-third of all donations. The majority of the largest donors in the world are based in the Americas. Of these donors, almost three-quarters are, largely self-made, Americans; they each donate around $30 million over their lives.

Our entrepreneurial spirit goes hand-in-hand with our desire to help others. Rich and poor alike believe this, as American households give several thousand dollars to charity each year on average.

We are following in the footsteps of a long line of Americans.

When he wasn’t leading our nation as a Founding Father and statesman, inventing items like lightning rods and bifocals, or publishing newspapers, Benjamin Franklin used his success to build Philadelphia’s civil society through developing a number of critical institutions. These include among others: The nation’s first public library; Pennsylvania’s first volunteer fire brigade; the Academy of Philadelphia, now known as the University of Pennsylvania; and the nation’s first hospital, which focused on serving the poor and sick.

The great 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie was equally ambitious. Among other things, he: Created 2,811 lending libraries worldwide; founded one of the world’s leading research universities in the Carnegie Technical Schools, now known as Carnegie Mellon University; underwrote one of the nation’s first and still largest grantmaking foundations in the Carnegie Corporation; and established numerous other charitable organizations. Peers like John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan picked up his mantle.

Today, several American billionaires like Bill Gates have pledged to give away half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. They are joined by many business successes, from Silicon Valley tech titans to energy tycoons, who help fund projects in areas like education, health and culture.

Recently we were reminded of the generosity of America’s business community, which mobilized to donate millions of dollars to the recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In spite of this record, in conversations with folks about causes near and dear to my heart like The Cloisters on the Platte and Opportunity Education, I have heard our philanthropic work described as “unusual.”

Why is there this perception that it is rare for those who have done well to support charitable causes?

Could it be because “the rich” are often depicted in popular culture as greedy, old, and sometimes overweight fat cats chomping on cigars? Is the corrupt and miserly “Old Man Potter” from It’s a Wonderful Life how Americans see our captains of industry?

If so, it is a real shame. We have always been a country that celebrates strivers and doers. We have never sought to pull people down for success, but to lift others up and open opportunities so that they too can achieve it. Envy is not in our DNA. Ambition is.

Speaking for myself, one way of expressing my appreciation for the opportunities this nation has provided has been by using the wealth our enterprises have created to advance worthy causes.

The purpose is not to put names on buildings, but to support initiatives in areas like civil society and education that will allow us to continue to thrive as a vibrant and dynamic country for decades to come.

While there are certainly greedy wealthy people just as there are greedy non-wealthy people, in my life, I have found that almost all Americans feel the same way I do about being generous with their time and money.

We are generous because we are thankful, and because we wish to see American remain the freest, most prosperous land on Earth for our children and grandchildren.

This spirit of generosity should unite us all. It is one of the many things that makes us an exceptional nation.

Why I’m Against Unions At Businesses I Create

It is the Free Enterprise system that has made this country an economically wealthy and powerful nation and I enjoy participating in it.  And I like starting businesses that solve problems and create jobs.  In fact, I love it.

When a business succeeds, it’s fantastic; fantastic for the people working in the business, and fantastic for consumers who benefit from a new product or service.

But, there’s a tough reality to starting businesses:  more of them fail than succeed.  In fact, most businesses fail.  They fail because it’s hard to build a successful company.  There are always powerful forces working against you – e.g., competition, regulation, access to capital, poor execution, poor timing, bad luck.  Sometimes it turns out that your idea just won’t work.

And yet, here’s the thing:  trying to solve all the problems that a business faces is what’s fun for me, particularly when I’m doing it shoulder-to-shoulder with people who share my passion for building a successful enterprise.

Which brings me to the topic of unions.

There can be no doubt that historically, unions served an important purpose, balancing power between ownership and labor.  Indeed, the early days of capitalism were a bumpy ride, and the relationship between ownership and labor was often out of whack in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  And yet, 2017 looks a lot different than 1917.

But, I’m neither a historian nor an economist.  I’m an entrepreneur, so I’m not going to wax on about the historical imperative of unions and why they do or don’t serve a role in our modern economy.  I will, however, tell you what I know, and I know about starting and growing businesses.  I know that businesses constantly face a barrage of obstacles to survival – never mind success – and, in the face of that, everyone at the company needs to be pulling together or that company won’t make it.  I know that keeping a company growing and thriving requires focus and tireless effort by everyone.  Indeed, in my opinion, the essential esprit de corps that every successful company needs can’t exist when employees and ownership see themselves as being on opposite ends of a seesaw.  Everyone at a company – owners and employees alike – need to be sitting on the same end of the seesaw because the world is sitting on the other end.

I believe unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed.  And that corrosive dynamic makes no sense in my mind where an entrepreneur is staking his capital on a business that is providing jobs and promoting innovation.

That’s why the type of company that interests me is one where ownership and the employees are truly in it together, without interference from a third-party union that has its own agenda and priorities.  I’m not interested in any agenda at any company I start, other than working together to deliver something exceptional to consumers and doing it as everyone pulls shoulder-to-shoulder tackling whatever the marketplace throws at us.

It is my observation that unions exert efforts that tend to destroy the Free Enterprise system.

Kohl Children’s Museum











I was recently honored to be recognized by the Kohl Children’s Museum for my work with Opportunity Education making quality education accessible to children living in poverty.  The museum hosted a wonderful gala at which I received their 2017 Power of Play Award.

I don’t believe you lift people out of poverty with handouts; you do it by breaking the cycle of poverty and specifically by providing people with educational opportunities. Those opportunities lead to good jobs.  Good jobs lead to stable families.  And stable families raise children who can do even better than their parents.  This is the very reason I started the Opportunity Education and built NGL Academies in California, Nebraska and Tanzania.

Thank you to the Kohl Children’s Museum for the award and, more importantly, for giving me the chance to hopefully inspire others to use the power of education to help people living in poverty have an opportunity for a better life.


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