11/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Newman Inspired a Generation of Entrepreneurs

I think most of the country knows him as Fast Eddie Felson or Cool Hand Luke. My kids think of him as an aging Hudson Hornet, pining away his days in the mythical Radiator Springs. But in my mind, I regard Paul Newman as perhaps the most successful social entrepreneur of our time and a role model who seeded a revolution.

Newman styled himself as an accidental entrepreneur, someone who fell into his work by chance. In this regard, he exemplified the old guard of socially responsible business, the individuals who stumbled into their companies despite their lack of formal training. That might have been the secret to their success: unlike the Harvard MBA set, they had no idea that they were trying to defy the laws of gravity as laid out by the likes of Freidman or Smith.

These were pioneers like Anita Roddick, Paul Hawken, Ben Cohen, and Gary Hirshberg. They always were the darlings of the conference circuit, sharing their stories and creating veritable folklore about building conscious companies. And, indeed, the world has benefited enormously from their creations -- including the Body Shop, Ben and Jerrys, Smith & Hawken, and Stonyfield Farms.