Five Guys is the name of the nation's hottest purveyor of quality (that is, fresh) fast food, with 550 outlets, and another 200 slated to open this year. I have another five guys in mind: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google). The American economy and society have been transformed over the past 25 years or so by their technical innovations and marketing skills.
Imagine how different life would be if they had chosen nuclear physics, automobile design, or burger franchising instead of digital entrepreneurship. Michael Dell (Dell), Jerry Yang (Yahoo), and many others also contributed to the re-invention of industry and culture. But these five, who were all in their 20s when they launched themselves, are now dominant arbiters of how culture and information is presented and the way we spend our time and money.
In the early decades of the past century, another group of guys played a comparable role: Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Henry Ford were the forerunners. William Paley (founder of CBS), David Sarnoff (RCA and NBC), and Thomas Watson (who built IBM) came later. It seems safe to predict that across the country in the years ahead, young geniuses (guys is now a gender-neutral term) will devise equally spectacular breakthroughs, combining vision and execution, the indispensable pairing for such fundamental change.