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Transformative Entrepreneur to Celebrity CEO: Henry Ford, Elon Musk and the Journey from Genius to Infamy

05.18.2023 04:30 PM

Event Summary

Entrepreneurship sits squarely at the heart of the capitalist system of economic activity. Although sidelined by mainstream marginal analysis in the neoclassical economic tradition throughout much of the 20th century, entrepreneurship is back, as are its associated ideologies. In particular, we now live in the age of the celebrity entrepreneur. In this talk David A. Kirsch (University of Maryland) used the trajectories of two singular entrepreneurs – Henry Ford and Elon Musk – to explore how capitalism produces celebrity as part of its ceaseless dynamic of economic and technological transformation. Kirsch considered the similarities and contrasts between the two men and argued that both men understood the importance of public opinion, of appearing to stand apart, and of using media to advance their business prospects. Further, at various points, Ford and Musk each sat atop proprietary media empires, in turn resulting in their respective infamy.

This event was presented as part of the Democracy and Capitalism research project at the Neubauer Collegium.


David A. Kirsch is Associate Professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the College of Information Studies (i-School) at the University of Maryland, College Park. His research focuses on the intersection of problems of innovation and entrepreneurship, technological and business failure, and industry emergence and evolution. Kirsch has written about the history of alternatives to internal combustion (The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History, 2000) and the general problem of speculation around technology in financial markets (Bubbles and Crashes: The Boom and Bust of Technological Innovation, with Brent Goldfarb, 2019).