NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Each time I’ve heard the “you didn’t build that” sound bite from President Obama, it’s gnawed at me a little more. My father started his own business. Suggesting that he didn’t build it has brought me to a slow boil.
An aside – ignore the Obama campaign’s spin that the President’s words are being taken out of context. He meant exactly what he said. Here is the extended quote, which goes beyond the sound bite that you hear on the news and in the talk shows: “They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.“
When I came home from college, I’d take the train from Syracuse to New York City. I’d arrive in the early evening, and would walk over to my dad’s office. We’d drive to our house together. Dad was always the last one in the office. On this particular night the lights were on, but Dad wasn’t at his desk. I looked around for a few minutes, and eventually found him in the mens room. He was scrubbing the toilet. Dad had fired the company that cleaned the office, and one of the duties he gave to himself was to tidy up the place. Before he went home he’d empty the trash cans, and once a week he’d vacuum and clean the toilets. His workers probably had no idea when they sat down at their desk the next morning that the company president had cleaned their work area the night before.
My father started his business by accident. He was a vice president for a company that imported sporting goods into the U.S. He made a very good salary. But as more foreign suppliers set up their own distribution, the importer became an unnecessary middle-man. Starting his own financial services company was his choice instead of relocating to Colorado or Vermont.
Dad said the only reason to start your own business was to get rich. The economics of a start-up were too risky to consider it ‘just a job’. Dad didn’t get rich. He earned enough money to pay his mortgage and send his children to college. Dad eventually sold his company to a larger competitor, worked for them for a few years (where he no longer had to clean the office), and now there’s very little evidence that his firm even existed.
As a financial services company, Dad’s business was heavily-regulated. The compliance rules for the Fair Credit Reporting Act alone would make your head spin. When he moved to Connecticut but worked in New York, Dad got the ‘privilege’ of paying income tax in both states. If it was still a going concern, Dad’s company would have shut its doors when Obamacare took effect. Those costs would have been the difference between showing a profit or a loss.
So, Mr. President, who built it?