The recent death of Margaret Thatcher tugged at me in ways that I didn't expect. Perhaps it was because it was during her later years as Prime Minister of Great Britain that my business was born. When I was struggling to pull the elements together to launch a small business television show and production company in 1988-89, Prime Minister Thatcher was to me a smart but tangential figure in a faraway place, unable to help me solve entrepreneurial challenges in Los Angeles, California.
It was only after she'd left office in 1990 that her character and beliefs began to mean something to me as a business owner and advocate for the entrepreneurial spirit in America. As I read parts of her speeches and some of her most famous quotations, it became easily apparent that she understood the value of capitalism, enterprise, and the business community in a democratic society.
Here are some of the ways she inspired me: Margaret Thatcher was a risk-taker, as are hundreds of thousands of business owners both small and large in America. When it came to facing big issues including cranky politicians and balky unions, she wasn't afraid to walk the path of most resistance. Like the leaders before her that truly earned their place in the history books, I thought that she truly did believe in the right way, not necessarily the easy way. "I am not a consensus politician. I'm a conviction politician," she said. Today's list of high level elected officials who measure up to that description is probably a short one.
Mrs. Thatcher understood that risk was a vital ingredient in a free enterprise society. Her actions showed her belief that such a society had to be led by a government with a sturdy backbone. She embraced aspiration, the power of individuals to make the most of their talents to improve their lives and the society around them. I often think that we have spent way too much time and money trying to convince people here that we can lead riskless lives while still enjoying a dynamic and prosperous economy. That promise belongs in campaign speeches, but certainly not in reality.
As prime minister, Mrs. Thatcher probably didn't realize for some time after her election what an awful state British industry was in. In 1979, she set about its rehabilitation. With loud debates and arm twisting she put the economy on a sound footing, helped to end a culture of crippling strikes, and encouraged entrepreneurs to set up their businesses in Britain. She said, "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it." Her belief was that nations could become great only if individuals were set free.
Most often, I'm not pleased with the general trends I see in Washington or my California state capitol pertaining to business development. I could vote for a politician of almost any party who has Prime Minister Thatcher's directness and fiery enthusiasm. Instead of berating business owners and the wealthy, she seemed to me to be a person who believed that there had to be room on the grand stage for those job creators. She said, "What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose."
Why would any government want to penalize people who are smart, have a clear sense of purpose and who work hard? I think those principles are the town square and bubbling fountain of supporting great societies. Some people are afraid of a variety of disasters that you see on the news just about every day. My big fear is that we've created a dependency state that has gone a long way toward killing off the enterprising and self-reliant spirit that built America, thereby earning admiration and respect around the world.
Mrs. Thatcher may have been proud of being cast as the Iron Lady, a phrase that reflected her strength, but that missed her warmth. I now realize that she was one of the most important political figures in the 20th century and to me, an unsung advocate for capitalism and growing businesses. Here are two of my favorite Thatcher quotes: "Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction" and "Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people's money." I'm wishing for an American leader at the national level that can bring us a fresh version of that Thatcher spirit.