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Entrepreneurs who dreamed big

‘’Necessity is the mother of invention’’, or so the old proverb goes. History, however, is littered with examples of entrepreneurs who innovated and succeeded thanks to their grandiose ideas – inspired by their obsessions and dreams rather than quintessential needs. Here we take a look at three entrepreneurs who, fuelled by their eccentricities, dreamed so big they changed the world.

Henry Ford here to help

To recite one of Henry Ford’s most recited quotes, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.’’ For Mr. Ford, his companies were a way of realising his vision, which consequently made him an extremely wealthy individual. Henry Ford was driven by a simple dream – to improve the lives of his fellow man.

Ford grew up on a rural farm despising the hard manual labour, which sowed the seeds for his desire to innovate with machinery. In 1903, the Ford Motor Company was born. He strove to mass produce a commercially affordable vehicle, and his innovations in assembly line production paved the way for modern motor vehicles.

However, his desire to improve people’s lives led to more than the production of vehicles. He is often credited for cutting down the six-day 48-hour work week to the five-day 40-hour week – the working ritual of our times – deeming it more conducive for worker morale.

Perhaps the wackiest manifestation of Ford’s vision was building an entire town in the middle of the Amazon, named Fordlandia. The aim? To create a utopia in the jungle (although securing a source of cultivated rubber may have been his more calculated intentions), an 18-hour boat trip up the river to the nearest city. The project was never fully realised, but emphasised the boundless nature of his vision.

The curious case of Howard Hughes

Where do we start with Howard Hughes? Pioneer, business mogul, film-maker, pilot, and inventor, many may know him as portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie The Aviator. His scope of business activity across all manner of industries were of Da Vinci-esque proportions. A skilled engineer and scientific mind, by the age of 18 Hughes was already a millionaire for patenting a part for a drill which revolutionised the oil industry. His rapid wealth gave him the opportunity to pursue his dreams – in the early 1920s the movie-buff wrote, funded, and even directed a number of ambitious films such as aviation war-epic Hell’s Angels.

His love of flying led him to pioneer numerous aircraft, and eventually acquire Trans World Airlines. As a pilot himself, Hughes set numerous airspeed records, and also miraculously survived four plane crashes.

The last plane crash left him with severe injuries, the pain of which, accentuated by his eventual mental health issues, haunted him for the rest of his life. Hughes locked himself away in solitary in a darkened screening room for years, and spent the remainder of his life living in hotels (many of which he would eventually purchase, adding real estate tycoon to his list of accolades).

Nikola Tesla’s illuminated world

Just about squeezes into the entrepreneurial category, although perhaps more famed for his inventive genius than business acumen. Another individual who was compelled more by his dreams than the pursuit of profit, Tesla believed his work could potentially ‘’light the Earth’s atmosphere, banish darkness, and bring in a new era of light.’’ Visions don’t come much grander than that.

His lasting legacies included the invention of the modern electrical supply system AC (alternating current), and the Tesla coil used in many devices today. In 1900, the Tesla Electric Company’s support from wealthy benefactors allowed him to pursue his next ostentatious idea – to build a global, wireless communication system.

The project, unfortunately, bankrupted his company and gave the inventor a nervous breakdown, from which eccentricities evolved. Later in his life he alerted the attention of the FBI with his ideas to use his technology to construct a powerful ‘death beam’, which had also turned the heads of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. He even claimed to have invented an ‘earthquake machine’, which he believed on testing caused New York to shake, a myth much later debunked. Visionaries didn’t come much more ambitious than Tesla, another man whose entrepreneurial spirit elevated him to the rank of genius.

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