Ask any little boy on the block what he wants to be when he grows up. Chances are the word businessman doesn't come rolling off his tongue.
After all, since children inhabit a world where heroes are an essential ingredient, it is more likely that a profession such as policeman or doctor or fireman satisfies the goal in life. (Several kids, however, have told this observer that growing up to be He-Man, Pac-Man or Papa Smurf might have its advantages.)Although visions of one's future change with age, the image of the businessman - which here includes businesswoman - hasn't attained the degree of respectability found in childhood goals. Indeed, many view such an occupation as merely a means to an end, namely money.
Businessmen have received varying critiques over the years. The 19th century British historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle called them the "captains of industry," a phrase not lost to our present era.
Walter Begehot, the 19th century English writer, thought that businessmen were most successful at guessing, but not necessarily at thinking things through.
"Men of business have a solid judgement - a wonderful guessing power of what is going to happen - each in his own trade: but they have never practiced themselves in reasoning out their judgements and in suporting their guesses by argument: probably if they did so some of the finer and correcter parts of their anticipations would vanish."
Here's what Thomas Edward Cliffe Leslie, an Irish contemporary of Begehot, had to say on the subject.
"So far, indeed, are men from knowing the conditions on which future prices and profits depend, that they are often ignorant, after the event, of the causes of their own past profits and losses."
The great English economist John Maynard Keynes as well did not have kindly words for the man of business. He wrote, "Regarded as a means (the businessman) is tolerable, regarded as an end he is not so satisfactory."
And yet the businessman is usually totally dedicated to his work, often to the benefit of others. One might even argue that the very beginnings of civilization included the art of buying and selling, an art practiced by the first businessmen.
The 20th century American economist Frank H. Knight placed the businessman on a higher plane than some of his predecessors when it came to motivation and drive.
"The businessman has the same fundamental psychology as the artist, inventor, or statesman. He has set himself at a certain work and the work absorbs and becomes himself. It is the expression of his personality; he lives in growth and perfection according to his plans."
But while the businessman can give of his time to good causes, donate money to help the less fortunate and contribute free counsel and advice to those in need, respectability still has been long in coming.