ON THE SHELVES: Larger than life

ON THE SHELVES: Larger than life

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? It's the type of question that is inevitably difficult to answer because those who ask it are generally not of that persuasion.

During the course of his career at Forbes ASAP, editor at large Michael S Malone has had the chance to study some of the larger-than-life personalities of the IT world. In Betting It All, Malone decided to ask them that question. What follows is an insightful first-person account of the lives of 16 tech leaders - including what drives them and what they believe is the key to success in business.

Betting It All originated as an interview series that screened on PBS in the US. The idea was conceived at the height of the tech-stock boom, when Malone and colleague Bob Grove began asking whether the entrepreneurs of the dotcom era were made of the same stuff as their predecessors. It spawned a series of half-hour interviews that lose none of their relevancy when transcribed into print.

The one-on-one accounts lend an intimacy to the content, which makes it hard to put the book down. After all, these identities have been afforded rock star status in the media. The chance to see the introspective side of personalities such as Bill Gates or Scott McNealy is often drowned out with marketing hype. But Malone was able to get nearly all his interviewees to talk freely about growing up, education, and the success (and sometimes the failures) of manning the helm of some of the most high-profile tech companies in the world. Larry Ellison's account of the storm aboard the Oracle Maxi during the now-infamous Sydney to Hobart yacht race that claimed the lives of six yachtsmen, for example, is not only a long way from the media-seeking playboy image that is most often projected, but fascinating in its candour.

Malone is shy in giving his own impressions of these high-tech entrepreneurs. But far from detracting from their own stories, his comments serve to balance their accounts. He often gives his own history with the person - first impressions and how they changed over the years. And as he grew up in Silicon Valley, there are very few degrees of separation between entrepreneur and host. Far from intruding in the narrative, Malone's comments add context but avoid being judgemental.

The opinions of the author are often supported by the interviewee's own words. For instance, he describes Gordon Moore as a "man of immense power, wealth and accomplishment" who "adamantly refuses to put on airs". It's a description substantiated by Moore's own account of his formulation of the law that bears his name: "I'm willing to take the credit for all of it, but all I really did was predict the increase in complexity of integrated circuits and therefore the decrease in cost."

In Betting It All, readers will no doubt find themselves fascinated by the lives behind the high-tech image and what drives these personalities to lead the IT industry.

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