The New Entrepreneur - millionaire in scuffed shoes

THE entrepreneur - or, to be exact, the New Entrepreneur - seems to be the latest cultural hero. His face, young and beardless, stares out from behind steel-rim glasses on all the best magazine covers. His mouth smiles; his eyes watch, quizzically. His collar stands open, without benefit of a tie. A sweater is more likely than a suit coat to drape his slim shoulders.

The New Entrepreneur looks like the brightest kid in the high school class - so bright, in fact, that he doesn't have to bother to answer the teacher's questions, or maybe yours, either.

The New Entrepreneur could have made his fortune in herbal teas or famous cookies - before 30 at the latest. But when in doubt, bet on high-tech. If high-tech is the answer, he probably made his first million before he was 25. Or even 20.

He is the Right Stuff that Apple and Atari and all the hot new companies in California's Silicon Valley and along Greater Boston's Route 128 are made of.

The New Entrepreneur boasts of origins as classic as a politician's log cabin. According to the standard mythology, his success story always begins in a friend's garage with the capital accrued from selling a very old Volkswagen.

The New Entrepreneur is the '80s answer to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison - with a business-school degree.

Impatient with bureaucracy, the New Entrepreneur maintains a '60s suspicion of all institutions. He sets up by himself because it's more efficient - it's the way to get things done. He views himself, in a favorite new phrase, as a risk-taker. One New Entrepreneur dramatized himself for all the New Entrepreneurs: ''I just jumped off the mountain and hoped the parachute would open.''

Once he has made it - with or without three market surveys to select that mountain - the New Entrepreneur tends to develop a mystical explanation for his ability to read the economy. ''It was like putting on glasses that permitted me to see the infrared spectrum,'' another New Entrepreneur summed up.

Again, one hears an odd echo of the rhetoric of the '60s. A professor at Harvard Business School, John J. Kao, has picked up on the parallel by observing: ''Money is the long hair of the '80s.''

But this is simplistic. The case histories of the New Entrepreneurs suggest that they work their 12-hour days less for money than because they become fascinated with solving the next problem. And then the next, and the next. . . .

In his romantic moods, the New Entrepreneur takes pleasure in thinking of his operation as an extended family. The metaphor of the commune is not wholly unjustified.

When the enterprise gets too big, the young founding father has shown a willingness to sell it to the nearest conglomerate and walk away. He likes to talk as if he might do something mellow with his life after 35 or 40 - a multimillionaire in scuffed shoes with the Huck Finn credo of the counterculture.

The New Entrepreneur clearly differs from the old entrepreneur. Will his leadership - self-disciplined but casual, full of the spirit of flexible working time - set the mode for the future? Will the working place then become a little less competitive, a little more human? Finally, will the New Entrepreneur's style extend beyond business - to politics, for instance? Are you still there, Gary Hart?

It's far too early to answer these questions. At the moment, we're talking about a journalist's cartoon, a too-neat typology - the hippie capitalist. The preliminary question hasn't even been answered: Does the New Entrepreneur really exist? But if the answer is no, about 160 schools in the United States teaching expensive courses on the art of the entrepreneur have their own parachutes nicely opened up anyway.

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