Making a Better World

If we manage to create new models for emulation, we will have done our work.

A few years ago, I got a phone call from a public figure, who said it was urgent. I figured I knew what it was about.

Shortly before, the September TheMarker Magazine had published its annual list of the 100 most influential people in Israel's economy. I assumed the caller was irked by our story on him, which slammed his performance and queried his ethics.

Actually, he'd called to thank me for including him in the list, and said he was confident that the following year, he'd rank higher.

There is a big difference between the way we at TheMarker view this list and the way the public does. That person felt his sheer presence in the list was a personal coup. He couldn't have cared less what we wrote about him.

We had a vision when we launched the list in September 2001. The Israeli economy made vast strides in the 1990s, in high-tech, globalization, foreign investment, structural reforms and the capital market. But the business press hadn't adapted. It continued to address only a handful of people, speaking in jargon that sometimes hid rank amateurism. It was also screamingly dull.

Worse, it didn't report the real story. Personalities were barely covered, yet social and business contacts have immense influence over the business scene, sometimes even at the macroeconomic level. Love, hate, personal interests and image can prevail over economic logic.

The purpose of the 100 Most Influential list was to show who really affects the economy, who are the people who control the budget, regulation and legislation, who are the people who have billions of shekels and employ thousands of workers. We wanted to reveal their faces, their links, their interests and their influence over your life. When we began publishing the list, they, and the unholy links between wealth and government, and sometimes with the press as well, were largely unknown.

Nine years later, the media and economy have changed beyond recognition.

Nowadays, TheMarker and the business press that developed in its wake constantly report on these people: the tycoons, the CEOs, the regulators, the politicians, the treasury officials and the Knesset members.

There has also been a change for the worse in those nine years. The word "influential" gets increasingly confused with "successful." Never mind what you do and how you do it; if you're a headline name, you made it.

The dilemma

We faced a dilemma. On the one hand these people were the most influential, people whose power and relationships should be in the journalistic spotlight. But their appearance in the 100 Most Influential list had side effects that defeated our purpose. So the editors at TheMarker reached a decision: popular, talked-about, interesting and informative as the 100 Most Influential list was, it needed to change.

It didn't have enough inspirational stories. It didn't have a focus on the people who had the greatest influence for the best. Lawyers who mediate between riches and regulators? Businessmen who know how to pull strings? Entrepreneurs who mount leveraged buyouts of monopolies? Brokers with good timing? They all have roles to play, but as models for emulation?

The list had all too many people ravening for power and influence, tycoons who cultivated byzantine courts of cronies, politicians who placed populism and immediate gain over long-term vision and challenges, people with a knack for milking the system, short on social responsibility and in some cases, outright looters of the public.

We lacked models of integrity, of excellence and professionalism, of long-term vision, people who aspire to values of economic freedom, fairness, equal opportunity and social commitment.

TheMarker shall continue to report on the people who are truly the most influential, describing their relationships, their whims and habits, their hidden agendas. But our flagship September issue will try to bring stories that inspire, about people worthy of emulation: the 100 people who do the most good.

Building a list of the Ideal Israelis, the 100 people who have influenced their country for the better, who have done something to aspire to, was infinitely harder than the original version of the list. It may have many inaccuracies and even mistakes. There may be 300 people eligible for the 100 Most Influential list, but when it comes to choosing paragons, people who make the country a better place to be - there are thousands on the list of potentials.

Some people influence Israel for the better, while other things they do cause harm. What to do with an entrepreneur who builds companies and provides mass employment, but who also tramples everyone who blocks his path, sometimes by unethical means? Which is more important? The benefits he brings to the economy or the economic damage he wreaks, and the twisted norms he promotes?

Then there are the ones who do good quietly. For some of the people on our list, this is their first significant mention in the press. Others should be there and will certainly appear in years to come.

Perhaps the best way to describe the people on our list is that they aim to advance the people who have no influence: the people who have no contacts with people in power (or at the government monopolies ), who are represented by nobody in particular. They are the unconnected, the taxpayers, the people who serve in the reserves, who have no job security, whose pension savings will not give them a comfortable old age, who are ground down by life that just gets harder.

We found plenty of influential people who donate their time and money, but not in any sweeping fashion aiming for the greater good: They find a cause, write the check and take the plaque, only to return to their milieu. Too much money also goes into projects that do not create genuine long-term change: These projects are like aspirin for cancer.

We aspire for our list to inspire, to create models worthy of emulation. We want to show that there are people who can do things for their society despite the pressures and cynicism surrounding them. We want to show that this is possible. Perhaps doing good can become as fashionable as accruing power and money.

A century ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis stood up against the tycoons and monopolies crushing the economy and society, and wrote, "Here and there you will find a hero ... red-blooded, and courageous ... loving manhood more than wealth, place or security ... who dared to fight for independence and won. Here and there you may find the martyr, who resisted in silence or suffered with resignation. But America, which seeks 'the greatest good of the greatest number,' cannot be content with conditions that fit only the hero, the martyr or the slave."

Our warriors for a better world tend to be people of lesser lofty stature than Brandeis. Often they lack the means and knowhow to take on the powers that just want to maintain the status quo. But if we manage to encourage, with our annual list, people to take on the task of being the Israeli Louis Brandeis, if we help cultivate a generation of practical philanthropists, if we help academics and doctors and researchers regain their status in the eyes of society, we can be gladdened: in the thought that we have created value not only for the readers of this newspaper, but for Israeli society as a whole.