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The myth of the humble nerd tycoon

Readers prefer Montgomery Burns to Larry & Sergey

Real Mail Last week I took Alexander Chancellor to task for a column based on a fantasy. He compared the frugal, down-to-earth Google founders favourably with a Saudi Prince. The Google founders don't even have a jet, he wrote, and this humility was the norm in Silicon Valley.

The column was based an ancient profile - but it evidently suited his purposes just fine. The nerds are frugal, and therefore virtuous. So I posed two questions: why do we expect tycoons to be anything other than bastards? That seems to be a bad case of sentimental wish-fulfillment. And why do we expect tycoons to spend their money biking their jam jars over to the recycling plant, rather than swanning around in MiGs, as they should?

First things first, however. The Google founders have several mansions we hear, in addition to the four jets. The Prius has long since been joined by far superior and speedier cars. As for Ellison, writes one:

"Kubla Khan (we call it LarryLand) is rumored to have cost some $80m according to my well-connected Woodside friends. It was originally supposed to cost $30M, but ran wildly over budget." We also hear a figure of $100m. The $30m refers to his previous pile.

Readers are not short of answers

Shaun calls it "Willy Wonka Syndrome:

"We expect technology CEOs to join us on the carpet with the toys they sold us. Not to put us through the mill like so many Augustus Gloops".

Mike P suggests -

My personal theory to explain this phenomenon goes as follows: Silicon Valley and its culture is supposed to be a product of California, with all the conotations of hippy and surfer culture and a reputation for sticking to 'The Man' associated with that state. The media therefore assume that the people who run Silicon Valley must be shiny, happy, peace and love types and not the ruthless, calculating sharks that they really have to be to get where they are. As we have seen so many times in the past, the media are never ones to let inconvenient facts get in the way of a good preconception.

"ps" adds -

I don't know about Beardie, but I know that if I, through my blood, sweat, and tears, and those of my family, make a success of my company, I willenjoy my 747 without guilt. I will do so because I took risks few are willing to take, and because I treat my employees better than myself. The idea that extraordinary skill should go unrewarded - that company founders should accede to a standard of living which, coincidentally, almost always coincides with that of the person complaining - is bizarre to me.

Those who criticize others for spending lavishly, to a man, spend lavishly themselves - just compared to different people. Are they willing to give up their lavish central heating and air conditioning? Their cell phones, their hi-def TV, their TV at all? Are they willing to give up their internet access, their cars, their four square meals? If not, they live as lavishly compared to most as Sergey and Larry do compared to them.

The world, I'm afraid, is not a terribly fair place, and perhaps we should all sacrifice more. Generally, however, we do not - and I would rather be a bastard with a 747 than a hypocrite with a Volvo.

On similar lines -

the most important point, it IS their money. If it's not, then they're crooks and will end up like the crew from Worldcom and Enron - dead or making big 'un's into little 'un's. If it really is THEIR money, the they can get $100 bills and light Havanas - I don't care how bad they are as humans or what poor role models they make.

If "people" don't like it, they can use Yahoo! or MSN or any of the other search engines and not do business with the banner-adverts that are also on Google. Or, better yet, buy up Google stock, get enough to seat some board members, and FIRE their asses.

But so long as everyone can ride in their profit balloon, they can rape villages and burn women and children. That's the way humans work: always have worked and always will work until someone can come up with a more lethal and aggressive way to program us than life does today.

Brett

There's not much love for the ginger hippy.

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