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FYI: Taking Responsibility

When is a CEO not a CEO?
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FYI

Among the many highlights of my first few days as editor of Inc was meeting with Bernie Goldhirsh, the magazine's legendary founder. While sharing a plate of Oreo cookies (a mutual favorite) with me, Bernie ticked off the qualities that have made Inc such a special publication since he started it, in 1979: its unmatched understanding of the American entrepreneur, its passion for its subject, and its deft blend of take-away advice and insight. Today Inc boasts an impressive audience of more than 665,000 business owners, leaders, and bosses -- but very few CEOs. At least, few are chief executives according to Bernie's definition. " CEO is an administrative and organizational title," he told me. " Inc readers are more than role players in some bureaucracy. They're people who run the whole show."

It's a critical observation. Unlike many of the business leaders who have made fortunes while steering their organizations into a ditch, Inc readers take daily responsibility for their decisions. Their companies -- large and small -- are extensions of themselves. The money they control comes out of their own pockets, not from the rich coffers of a corporate treasury or from hapless public investors. (That doesn't necessarily mean that entrepreneurs have the best instincts when it comes to handling their own investments, however. See " Why Good Entrepreneurs Make Bad Investors.")

It is both a great honor and a humbling experience for me to have the opportunity to serve such an audience. After more than 25 years of writing and editing at the Wall Street Journal and Worth magazine, I've developed a strong appreciation not only for Inc's many accomplishments but for its extraordinary potential.

As I see it, there has never been a more opportune time for Inc to serve as the handbook of the American dream. Soon a rebounding economy will coincide with a new wave of entrepreneurship as more and more individuals launch and expand their own businesses. The demographic trends have never been more favorable. And neither have the resources and tools available. Advances in communication, technology, production, and management now make it possible for individuals to leverage themselves as business owners in ways previously unimagined. Despite recent setbacks in the financial markets, capital will continue to flow freely to those companies that can use it best. Economies around the world will continue to open up and become more accessible.

Before I run out of room, I also want to use this space to thank its previous occupant, departing editor George Gendron. During George's two decades of leadership, the Inc 500 became the national standard for entrepreneurial success. The magazine introduced the world to Steve Jobs, Fred Smith, Ben and Jerry (Cohen and Greenfield), and Phil Knight, among countless others. And Inc became the place where businesspeople turned to discover the extraordinary private companies that were pioneering new ways to manage -- by sharing equity with employees, or opening their books to reveal their financial information, or reimagining how organizations could do great work.

George and the terrific staff he has left behind have embedded in Inc the conviction that doing good work could be one of the most ennobling endeavors that a person could pursue. Business at its root is deeply honorable, George always believed. That is a sentiment I share. And I'm proud to take up the role of advocating it even in these days when there's so much evidence to the contrary in the news.

Throughout its history, Inc has maintained a dialogue with its readers that has been crucial to its success. I've already been warned to expect a full range of feedback -- from heartfelt praise to the occasional angry scolding. But I wouldn't have it any other way. It's always nice to get compliments and suggestions; it's even more important to get flagged when we get something wrong. Like our readers, we also take full responsibility. Don't hesitate to write.


john.koten@inc.com.


Please E-mail your comments to editors@inc.com.




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