Pastor. Civil rights leader. Congressman. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Atlanta mayor. Olympics promoter. Business consultant.
I can’t think of anyone with that type of resume, except for Andy Young.
I sat down with him recently to see if he could provide any words of wisdom to deal with the tough business issues we’re facing. At 78, Young still has a lot of fire in his belly. (The air-conditioning was out in his Cascade Heights home that day, so he was really cooking in the summer heat.)
“The challenge of the 21st century is for us to make capitalism produce for the poor, like it did for the rich and middle class in the 20th century,” Young said. He recognizes, of course, that much of the middle class is getting squeezed in this economy, along with the poor.
Young advocates what he calls “public-purpose capitalism” — essentially an alliance of private firms and government. He cited the Olympics and Hartsfield-Jackson airport as two critical examples of how Atlanta has benefited from that type of cooperation over the long haul.
“When you try to run on just free enterprise, you’re really trying to sit on a one-legged stool,” he said.
Dealing with our problems, Young believes, requires the four-legged model: Effective government policies and leaders, a strong private sector, a good educational system and a vibrant religious culture.
“All have to work together,” he said.
I don’t think laissez-faire is in Young’s vocabulary.
“To me, the government helps you through a crisis,” he said. More public-private projects are needed, not fewer, he believes.
A more compromising attitude also is needed to heal some of the heated political divisions in our country, he said.
While growing up in New Orleans before marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Young said, “I had to run, to fight, to negotiate. I decided the better of the three was mediation with any problem.”
Finally, Young has been focusing much of his efforts in recent years on Africa, trying to interest companies in investing in the continent. His house is full of beautiful African sculptures, including a large, marble coffee table sculpted in the shape of the continent.
“We were getting set up for the African century and everything just collapsed [with the global recession],” he said. “The wealth is in the ground and not easily accessible. … My total vision is to put Africa in the global economic equation.”
That’s not going to be easy, he concedes. Many CEOs running multinational companies overlook the continent, opting instead for what they believe are more promising markets in places like China, India and Brazil.
Young’s own consulting firm, Goodworks International, gets few inquiries about Africa these days because “the international economy collapsed on us,” he said.
Still, Young remains hopeful.
“For Africa, tourism is the key that will open the door,” he said. “It can’t compete with China and India on manufacturing.”
Why is Africa so important?
“I’m a globalist, whether I like it or not,” Young said. “I think of Africa as a hope for a stagnant global economy.”
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