The moral of the stories: Entrepreneurs change the world

Daniel Ritchie
Daniel Ritchie

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Daniel Ritchie has worked as a business executive and university chancellor and joined in a variety of philanthropic efforts over the course of his long and varied career. Still, he’s more likely to play supporting rather than leading roles in the stories he tells about entrepreneurship.

Like the story about his telephone call encouraging a colleague to purchase what was then the New York Titans, a football team that went on to become the Jets and win a Super Bowl with Joe Namath as quarterback.

Or the story about Ritchie’s involvement on an advisory board for a center researching the use of stem cells to treat cancer.

One moral of those stories and others, Ritchie said, is the importance of entrepreneurs and their efforts. “Think big, you know. You can change the world with ideas.”

Ritchie recounted those stories and others as well as offered advice during his keynote presentation at the Entrepreneurship Day luncheon at Colorado Mesa University.

A graduate of Harvard with both an undergraduate and master’s of business administration degree, Ritchie initially worked on Wall Street. He went on to become executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Music Corporation of America. The MCA operated a record company, published music, represented film and television stars and produced and sold TV programming.

Ritchie subsequently worked eight years as chief executive officer of Westinghouse Broadcasting and helped create the first around-the-clock news radio station.

While he ostensibly moved to Colorado to retire and spend time on his ranch, he served as chancellor of the University of Denver from 1989 to 2005, leading efforts to rebuild and renew that institution.

He subsequently served as chairman and CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts as well as president of the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation and chairman of the board of the Daniels Fund.

Ritchie serves as co-chairman of the advisory board for the Gates Center for Regenerative  Medicine and Stem Cell Biology at the Anshutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

Ritchie said it’s difficult to understate the importance of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in inventing and improving everything from electrical service to automobiles to airplanes. “What makes our lives today is the result of entrepreneurship. … Without that, we’d be back in the Middle Ages or before.”

Entrepreneurs create not only services and products, but also jobs, Ritchie said. By one estimate, startups less than a year old create an average of 1.5 million jobs a year.

While the rule of law and intellectual property protections promote entrepreneurship, so do the history and culture of the United States, he said. “We do it better, entrepreneurship in America, than anywhere else in the world.”

Ritchie told three stories he said illustrate his points.

In the early 1960s when he was working as executive vice president and chief financial officer of MCA, Ritchie said he answered a phone call seeking his advice. Sonny Werblin, who also worked for MCA and was once dubbed “Mr. Show Business,” asked him whether or not he should purchase what was at the time the New York Titans for $1 million.

Werblin and his partners purchased the Titans, changed the name of the team to the Jets and in 1965 signed Joe Namath as quarterback. Three years later, Namath led the Jets to a victory over the favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Werblin also was involved in efforts that led to the merger of what were separate professional football conferences into the National Football League as well as the creation of “Monday Night Football.”

“It all started with a phone call,” Ritchie said. “It changed the world.”

Ritchie’s second story recounted the efforts of Rocky Mountain Health Plans in Grand Junction to encourage physicians, hospitals and other health care providers to work more collaboratively and efficiently as well as share electronic records. The result was a model for health care others have tried to replicate across the country, he said. “You guys here have been able to do it.”

Ritchie recounted in his third story the efforts of stem cell researchers and what Ritchie said were promising efforts to treat cancer patients. The techniques also could be used to transplant organs without having to also suppress the immune system, he said.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved human trials on the process. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the use of the process in treating animals, he said.

Ritchie encouraged entrepreneurs and students at the CMU event to think big, work hard and learn from mistakes.

Quoting physicist Albert Einstein, Ritchie said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Quoting psychologist Angela Duckworth, Ritchie said, “Effort is twice as important as talent.”

Regardless of how imaginative or hard-working, entrepreneurs still fail. But they’re likely to learn more from their mistakes than their successes, Ritchie said. “If you fail, you pick yourself back up and do it again.”