If you scan the list of Wealthiest Angelenos in this week’s issue, this may hit you: Los Angeles is the home of some of the world’s greatest innovators and entrepreneurs.
I mean, really. Patrick Soon-Shiong is worth $13.9 billion mainly because of biotech companies he created. Elon Musk became a billionaire because of innovative companies he founded or co-founded – PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, etc. And those are just the first two guys on the list.
If you go down the ranking, you’ll find a heavy representation of people who, like Soon-Shiong and Musk, came from fairly ordinary backgrounds and yet excelled not because they got lucky, but because of adventurous and extraordinary entrepreneurship.
These kinds of super-performers are truly rare, and those who are able create innovative companies are prized citizens – or should be – in their cities. Like superstar athletes or exceptional actors and musicians, they can do eye-popping things that, let’s face it, the rest of us can’t.
The point is this: They migrated here. Los Angeles is a magnet for these innovative, creative business people.
Musk and Soon-Shiong are from South Africa. Haim Saban was born in Egypt. David Geffen is from New York. The founders of Forever 21 are from Korea. Eli Broad – the only person who founded two Fortune 500 companies in different industries – grew up in Michigan.
And they all came here. It’s no accident that so many talented, driven entrepreneurs chose Los Angeles to carry out their innovative enterprises.
As Russell Goldsmith of City National Bank put it, “Los Angeles is a place where people are accepted for who they are and what they can do, not just based on where they’re from,” he said in the article that begins on page 15. “You can come to Los Angeles and become whoever you’re capable of being.”
Indeed, he touched on what may be L.A.’s most important economic asset. Even though it’s intangible, the fact that Los Angeles is an indisputable beacon to the boldly industrious, to those yearning to become who they’re capable of being, as Goldsmith put it, is exceedingly important.
These business superstars don’t simply amass personal wealth. They build businesses here that employ others, give economic sustenance to vendors and landlords and generally create wealth for many local folks.
I do think Angelenos – and this is an observation, not a criticism – take all this for granted. Locals are so inured to living in a creative business culture that we don’t appreciate how rare and valuable it is. If you grew up here, this seems normal to you.
Perhaps it’s more apparent to people who came to Los Angeles a little later in life. I spent years in several cities that, while great places in their own right, are overly concerned about what your parents did and where you went to school. To try something disruptive and new in business is to invite suspicion. To fail is to be stained. The Elon Musks of the world move on, to cities like Los Angeles.
If anything, adventurous entrepreneurism may be increasing in Los Angeles. The tech community, so-called Silicon Beach, has drawn the young and innovative from all over the world in the last few years. As you can see in the article that’s on page 1 of this issue, more investment money has flowed into L.A.’s tech startups so far this year than in the same span in any previous year. Way more money.
Alas, there is a downside. While many businesses get rooted here and grow big (and put their founders on our Wealthiest list), those businesses don’t always stay long. High-cost Los Angeles seems stuck in this cycle of creating businesses that eventually get poached by low-cost Texas. The last part of that cycle is something that Los Angeles and California need to get serious about breaking.
But that’s a topic for another time. What’s important – what’s rare – is that Los Angeles is one of the few places on Earth that beckons restless innovators and adventurous creators. It’s the home of some of the world’s greatest innovators and entrepreneurs.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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