One tends to forget, but 25 years ago things were really different. Your phone and computer—if you had one—were just tools, no more or less sexy than a filing cabinet. There was also no such thing in America as a real café, a place where you could work or just relax, and be welcome either way. And the idea of a store that could sell you virtually anything you could imagine as you sat at home was science fiction. Then came Apple. And Starbucks. And Amazon.
People who create businesses create change—and in the process make life easier, richer and better for millions. That's what they do. So it's no surprise that entrepreneurs dominate CNBC's list of the quarter century's most influential business leaders. It would be a stunner only if Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz and Jeff Bezos weren't there, along with other profoundly important business builders, like Martha Stewart, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Bogle. You can't begin to understand the past 25 years without understanding what they did, which was merely to change the course of American life.
But understanding how they did it is at least as instructive. That captures what it really takes to succeed in America and what America needs to do to enable more to succeed. At a time when half of all millennials say they want to start a business and every economist sees entrepreneurship as the way to bury the financial crisis and keep America competitive globally, this matters.