The Scarcity of “Patient Capital” (1986)

Norman Lear on Business, Politics and Culture

Speech Excerpts, 1972 – 2011

The Scarcity of “Patient Capital” (1986)

If I hadn’t been lucky enough to find some “patient capital” in 1971, I would not be standing before you today.  If CBS, in the person of Bob Wood, hadn’t understood that a fresh entertainment menu was needed at CBS for success in the long term….if the network hadn’t dropped all the constraints of numbers-driven management just long enough for All in the Family to get in the door…. if they hadn’t taken a leap of faith by ignoring the “hard” numerical data of the research which said that American would not find Archie Bunker entertaining – the test results were the absolute lowest – they would have effectively squelched whatever innovation we were fortunate enough to bring to television comedy.

It took three years and turn-downs by all three networks before we finally got on the air.  But in retrospect, we were lucky:  at least CBS was willing to give us 13 shows and 13 repeats – to work out the bugs in our product and find our audience.  That kind of long-term investment is virtually never made in television today.  One new show this season was cancelled after just one airing.

The climate in television today – and in manufacturing, and in finance – skews more and more toward short-term results, and away from the entrepreneurial.  It has become something of a societal epidemic too.  We are raising generations of children to believe that there is nothing between winning and losing.  The notion that life has anything to do with succeeding at the level of doing one’s best is lost to our kids in this short-term, bottom-line climate.

How far will we go in sacrificing certain enduring societal values in order to “maximize economic value” in the marketplace?  A Heritage Foundation scholar recently urged that the right to immigrate to the United States be auctioned to the highest bidders – the idea is that the winners would be people with a propensity for “maximizing wealth.”  I suppose the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty could be rewritten to proclaim:  “Give me your tycoons, your professionals, your select few yearning to pay fees….”

From “The Rewards of Patient Capital,” at the Securities Industry Association, The Wharton School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 13, 1986.