You may think of entrepreneurship as something that had taken hold in this century with the rise of the information age. However, the word “entrepreneur” has its roots in the Old French word “entreprendre,” meaning to undertake, and its first known usage was back in 1852.
A look at fictional entrepreneurs
Today, Webster’s’ dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money” and “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” Some of the best novels include entrepreneurs as their protagonists. Let’s look at five of the most compelling entrepreneurs from classic fiction.
Fictional entrepreneurs – Mildred Pierce in Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
You may have seen the 2011 television miniseries starring Kate Winslet or the 1945 film starring Joan Crawford, but both award-winning adaptations are based upon James M. Cain’s 1941 book of the same name. Mildred Pierce is the memorable title character. A divorced mother, she creates and builds a restaurant chain in Southern California during the Depression.
When compared with Cain’s other novels Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce is less immersed in crime than it is in the foibles of the human heart. With its behind-the scenes peeks at the restaurant industry and at single motherhood, this is a page-turning and compelling look at what it meant to be a female entrepreneur during the lean times of the 1930’s.
Fictional entrepreneurs – Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Joseph Heller’s most successful novel, Catch-22, features this memorable character, who serves as a satirical spoof of the stereotypical 20th Century American businessman. First Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder sees World War II as a business opportunity. He has huge talent, but he has neither morality nor conscience.
A contract is a contract, according to Milo, and although he says everyone owns a share of his M & M Enterprises, he makes certain he always has the biggest share.
Fictional entrepreneurs – Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
A born marketing genius, Willy Wonka makes and promotes a product everyone wants. He even finds a way to get his customers to do his work for him. Long before the world of social media, Wonks builds up intense media coverage and word of mouth to promote his golden ticket idea.
This 1964 children’s book features this memorable exchange between Wonka and lead character Charlie Bucket:
Mr. Wonka: “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.”
Charlie Bucket: “What happened?”
Mr. Wonka: “He lived happily ever after.”
Fictional entrepreneurs – Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Hank Rearden is the ultimate self-made entrepreneur in this dystopian novel. As the inventor of Rearden Metal, an alloy that is stronger, lighter and less expensive than steel, Rearden is one of the most successful business owners in the U.S. However, when the government wants to nationalize the assets of business owners, Rearden refuses to play along.
First published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged is Rand’s fourth and final novel, and it is the one she said most clearly states her philosophical views of Objectivism.
Fictional entrepreneurs – Sammy Glick in What Makes Sammy Run? By Budd Schulberg
Budd Schulberg was inspired by the life and career of his father, Hollywood mogul B. P. Schulberg, to write this rags to riches novel. Published in 1941, What Makes Sammy Run tells the story of Sammy Glick, who climbs the ladder from the slums of New York’s Lower East Side to the riches of early Hollywood.
In Sammy, Schulberg gives us not a character to emulate but to disdain. Ruthless and unhappy, Sammy puts everything and everyone that is good in his life at risk in order to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter.
How can reading about fictional entrepreneurs affect you? Psychologists have found that while reading a book, we do something called “experience-taking.” We subconsciously change our own behaviors and thoughts to match those of a fictional character with which we identify.
In a series of six studies published conducted by Ohio State University and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “experience-taking” may temporarily transform the way readers view themselves and others.
In one experiment, for example, researchers found that, study participants who had strongly identified with a character who overcame obstacles to vote in an election were more likely to vote in a real election several days later than those study participants who read a different story.
So, now to find your own golden ticket…