When Staples founder Tom Stemberg took a star spot at the Republican convention last August, the weakness in Mitt Romney’s message should have been obvious. The retailer’s price already had fallen by a third since March; a month later, Staples announced a 15% cut in its floor space and 3,200 layoffs.
I don’t mean to diminish Bain Capital’s biggest success story, but Staples belongs to the wave of entrepreneurial success that ended in the 1990s. The last two waves of American entrepreneurs, in dotcoms and real estate, were carried out in body bags. What once was a disruptive business idea — office superstores selling at low prices — is now past its best-used-by-date, as Amazon offers cheaper prices for the same merchandise online.
Romney’s message centered on one great idea: the revival of entrepreneurship. The presidential election shows that Americans don’t believe in entrepreneurship any more. There’s a reason for that. No-one has seen much entrepreneurship of late.