The 7 saints I admire most

November 1, 2007: 10:42 AM ET

attila_th.jpgToday is the day after All Hallow's Eve, more properly known to those who observe the event as All Saint's Day. It's a holiday more honored in the breach than the observance by most people. But I thought it would give me an ever-so-slender hook by which I could suggest those whom I hold in reverence in this great and terrible Oz we all inhabit. In short? Here are a few of the saints who occupy my celestial cosmology:

Attila the Hun (Pictured above):  Also known as the Scourge of God, was actually a dynamic take-over artist and excellent senior manager, all things considered. He got his bad reputation because, in his case, history was sort of written by the losers, the guys he rolled over on his way to history. He represents an executive who was as nasty as he needed to be within the corporate culture of his time, and proves that you can't believe everything you read in the papers about yourself.

Augustus, Emperor of Rome: For his ability to be a vicious warrior on the one hand and a thoughtful, constructive bureaucrat on the other. He also had a sense of humor, although his jokes don't travel very well over the centuries. "Do you think you are handing a penny to an elephant?" seems to have been one of his bon mots that survived the passage of time, Lord knows why. Anyhow, a great builder, great statesman, funny guy, great at a party.

Nicolo Machiavelli: He had approximately my job in his corporation, did a lot of freelance writing, and made a name for himself. His level-headed and unsentimental pragmatism pretty much defines how mean people thrive in business, and even if you don't want to be one of them, this is precious information. See my book on the subject.

Benjamin Franklin, Renaissance Man of the Revolution: Great business people redefine themselves continually throughout their lives. Look at Bill Gates (MSFT). Started as a geek, transformed into a mighty behemoth, now he's a philanthropist. Ben Franklin was a writer, inventor, stateman, ladies man, rock star. Every decade of his life, a new Franklin pops up. As we all live longer, hopefully, this kind of fluidity will be become ever more necessary, lest we all get bored to death by the time we're 90.

Howard Hughes, Entrepreneur and Madman: Perhaps more than any other business person, was able to turn his mental illness into an asset. Endlessly fascinating source of deeply kooky behavior, peppered with huge achievements. Rumored to have been killed by his own senior staff, a fate evocative to every chief executive, I think.  

Tom Peters, Author: This guy has it all for me. First, he wrote In Search of Excellence, a huge business best-seller that everybody had to buy but nobody had to read. I've been trying to do that for 20 years, with incomplete success. Second, he's got it down as a public speaker for big bucks. I saw him talk with a tray of slides in 1985. Saw him again 15 years later. Same talk. Same slides. Even bigger paycheck. The guy has my respect.

Steve Jobs, Genius: When I go up to a mountaintop to think, I come back with poison ivy. This guy returns with an idea in his head that represents the exact thing everybody wants at any given moment. What's next, Steve (AAPL)? Whatever it is, I'm on line for it right now, rebate or not!

I have a lot more, of course. But that should do for now. Perhaps you pray at a different shrine, worship a whole other set of saints. If so, lay 'em on me. As long as Bill O'Reilly, Henry Ford (F) or Josef Stalin are not among them, I'll be happy to consider their application to my pantheon.

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