Historic Figures Re-cast as CEOs

by | Small Business Consulting

Some of our greatest business leaders are also remembered as historic icons (e.g., Ford, Disney, Edison), but the opposite isn’t usually true. Most history texts focus on political, military and artistic accomplishments, so the titans of commerce – unless they’ve dramatically altered human events – tend to be overlooked.

But imagine if certain destinies had been switched and timelines altered so that larger-than-life figures from the past had been unleashed in a growing, vibrant, free market economy…

History has probably unfolded as intended, but it’s still interesting to consider the “what-ifs.” It’s in that spirit that we present MP Star’s take on five historic figures that would have fared exceptionally well in the corner office.

Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance painter, sculptor, inventor, engineer, mathematician (1452 – 1519)

If man had not yet discovered and harnessed fire or invented the wheel, surely da Vinci would have devoted a couple afternoons to finding a way.

A legitimate freak of nature (his I.Q. is estimated at just over 200), da Vinci was indisputably centuries before his time. While primarily remembered as an artist (his “Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa” are arguably the two most famous paintings in history), da Vinci’s conceptual drawings of helicopters, airplanes, solar panels and submarines indicate a super-human level of creativity and innovation that has likely never been equaled.

An astounding intellect and insatiable curiosity would be assets in any business setting. But today, given his fascination with the human form, da Vinci would have taken notice of the staggering progress already made in various areas of medical research, and then fixated on pushing the boundaries of neuroscience, biomechanics and genetic engineering.

Certainly the money would have followed. Da Vinci knew the value of a good patron, but he did not under-price his work.

Likely Fits: Potentially diversified, but probably medical research or other applied sciences.

Compares to: Walt Disney, Richard Branson

Robert E. Lee, Confederate Civil War General (1807 – 1870)


Everybody loves an underdog.


Already a distinguished military hero for his service during the Mexican-American War, Robert E. Lee developed a reputation as a master strategist as head of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and, eventually, the commander of all Confederate forces.


When Virginia elected to leave the Union, Lee – who graduated second in his class at West Point – cast his lot with his home state, despite his serious misgivings about the eminent split in the nation and the fact that President Abraham Lincoln had aggressively pursued him to lead the Union army.


Out-manned, out-spent, and out-supplied, but never out-maneuvered, Lee’s strategies somehow let the Confederacy remain a viable threat until the last months  of the war. A master tactician, he effectively exploited internal communication channels and was the first military leader in recorded history to make regular use of field fortifications to leverage the power of relatively small numbers of troops during battles against larger armies.


Lee would have excelled at strategic planning, operations management, logistics, or even IT. Corporate finance may have beckoned, as well, perhaps as a turnaround specialist.

Likely Fits: Import/export, supply chain management, infrastructure planning.

Compares to: Lee Iacocca, Louis Rossetto (Founder, Wired magazine)

Jesus of Nazareth, Religious Leader and Social Reformer (7-2 BC? – 30-36 AD?)

Theological questions aside, there is little doubt that Jesus of Nazareth is one of the three or four most influential and charismatic figures in human history. Who or what Jesus actually was is still debated today, but his impact is undeniable.


A master motivator, story teller and teacher/philosopher, Jesus had an uncanny ability to raise passions, channel the energy of crowds and attract fanatical followers.


Whether accounts of turning water into wine are legitimate is immaterial. Perhaps the greatest contributions of his life were his constant pleas for compassion for his fellow men and, interestingly, his willingness to confront the status quo at any cost.


For Jesus, likely anything would be possible, but good bets would be that he’d land in a high profile “do well by doing good” role involving the driving of the masses toward a particular course of action.

Likely Fits: Health care, broadcast communications, Internet, agriculture.

Compares to: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates

Clara Barton, Nurse, Founder of the American Red Cross (1821 – 1912)

A one-woman women’s movement, Clara Barton built a spectacular career during an era in which few women even worked outside the home.


Sickened by the suffering inflicted during the Civil War, Barton set upon Washington to secure bandages, medicine, and other necessities for troops engaged in battle. She organized nearly continuous deliveries to soldiers in peril, and is thought to be the first woman to serve in any capacity on the front lines during a U.S. military action.


After the war, and with help from the Chester A. Arthur administration, she founded the American Red Cross. A gifted public speaker blessed with a keen intellect, Barton forged strong, if predictable, friendships with Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas.


Certainly any business endeavor with a humanitarian bent would have suited Barton well, but her powers of persuasion, never-say-never attitude, and demonstrated ability to build a formidable organization from scratch might have made her too attractive for Silicon Valley to pass up.

Likely Fits: Organizational development, health care, software, early-stage companies.

Compares to: Sam Walton, Ross Perot

Sun Tzu, Military Strategist (544 B.C. – 496 B.C.)

Mention The Art of War by Chinese military figure Sun Tzu at your next meeting and everyone will have either read, or claimed to have read it.


Titles of the book’s 13 chapters include “Laying Plans,” “Tactical Dispositions,” “Maneuvering,” and “Attack by Stratagem,” so it’s no wonder that the book remains one of the best selling “non-business” business books of all time.


Sun Tzu, who believed that war should only be entered into as a last resort, emphasized the importance of positioning, honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and intelligent use of resources in military strategy.


Sun Tzu would have thrived in nearly any highly-analytical role, probably in marketing, business development, or mergers and acquisitions.

Likely Fits: Strategic planning, marketing.

Compares to: Carl Icahn, Ted Turner


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