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Requiem for an Entrepreneur

February 16, 2004

The public's image of entrepreneurs and businessmen as mean, conniving, miserly, greedy crooks has been shaped from the time of Charles Dickens's Ebenezer Scrooge to the modern day Michael Douglas character, Gordon Gekko, in the movie Wall Street.

This image essentially puts a face to the Marxist class struggle theory. According to the theory, "the primary form of exploitation is economic," explains professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe in Requiem for Marx, "The ruling class expropriates part of the productive output of the exploited or, as Marxists say, 'it appropriates a social surplus product' and uses it for its own consumptive purposes."

Of course, the negative stereotype of businessmen is as false as Marxist theory itself. While millions have, and continue to, suffer under Marxist or socialist economic regimes, entrepreneurs at work in the capitalist world invest capital, organize resources, develop new products, create jobs and make the world a better place for the millions that are affected by their energy and vision.

"The vehicle of economic progress," wrote Ludwig von Mises in Human Action, "is the accumulation of additional capital goods by means of saving and improvement in technological methods of production the execution of which is almost always conditioned by the availability of new capital. The agents of progress are the promoting entrepreneurs intent upon profiting by means of adjusting the conduct of affairs to the best possible satisfaction of the consumers. In the performance of their projects for the realization of progress they are bound to share the benefits derived from progress with the workers and also with a part of the capitalists and landowners and to increase the portion allotted to these people step by step until their own share melts away entirely."

Ronald Yanke, an entrepreneur who touched the lives of thousands, died February 3rd in Boise, Idaho at the age of 68. Yanke grew up working in his father's machine shop and took over the family business in 1973 upon his father's passing. Yanke Machine Shop is now in its 62nd year in business, serving contractors, mining companies and the forestry industry. Speaking at Yanke's funeral service, Tom Nicholson, Yanke's friend of 55 years, mentioned a number of machine shop employees who had worked for the business for over 50 years. Nicholson told the hundreds in attendance that Yanke would "do anything for any employee," and that in turn, "the employees would walk through fire for him."

The machine shop business was just the beginning for Yanke. He owned two sawmills in Montana, a charter air service company, and a company that manufacturers firefighting equipment. He was also a rancher and owned vast amounts of timberland in the western United States as well as owning and developing a number of other real estate projects. Yanke also held significant ownership interests in a mechanical contracting firm, a manufactured housing firm and two banks.

But, Yanke is best known for being one of the three original investors in Micron Technology, the second-largest memory chip manufacturer in the world and the largest private-sector employer in Idaho. Yanke, along with Nicholson and another friend Allen Noble funded brothers Ward and Joe Parkinson who started Micron in 1978 in the basement of a dentist's office. As Ward Parkinson told Idaho Statesman reporter Julie Howard, "There wouldn't be a Micron if it wasn't for Ron."

From those humble beginnings, Micron stock is now traded on the New York Stock Exchange and the company has $7.5 billion in assets, $5.4 billion in shareholder equity and 17,000 employees worldwide.

Ronald Yanke was a big man, with a larger than life personality. It's been said that he never had a bad day, and you should believe it. The only other person this writer has been around who was as constantly cheerful as Yanke was Murray Rothbard.

Reverend James Wilson told those at the Yanke funeral that there was "not a mean bone in Ron Yanke's body," and described him as a "gentleman" in the true sense of the word — "a gentle man." Friend Jim Nelson told those assembled that Yanke was the "hardest worker anyone had ever seen," and "the hardest player anyone had ever seen."

Nickolson amplified that point, telling the crowd that Yanke had one speed for both work and play — peddle to the metal.

Despite being a man with considerable wealth, Yanke's tastes were not expensive. A story Jim Nelson told the Idaho Statesman illustrates the point. "We flew to Australia with our wives in 1985, and I said it's a 12-hour flight, we could upgrade to business class for $1,200 and be a lot more comfortable. Ron said if we flew coach, we could make $100 an hour. So we flew coach and he sang 'We're making $100 an hour.' He wasn't stingy, but he was certainly cognizant about money."

Yanke was a big supporter of the Boise State University football program, and would allow the coaches to use his airplane for recruiting trips. However, to attend bank board meetings once a month in Las Vegas, Yanke, Son-in-law Bryan Norby and Tom Nicholson would fly Southwest Airlines, with lunch after board meetings being at the soup-and-salad bar in a small local casino.

The Boise media has not mentioned Ron Yanke's investment in a community bank located in southern Nevada. In relation to Micron and some of his other businesses, the bank is probably too small to merit mention. But, just as in the case of Micron, there wouldn't be a Silver State Bank if it wasn't for Ron. Yanke and Nicholson invested $5 million to start the bank eight years ago. Today the bank has $520 million in assets and employs over 120 people.

As one of those employees, I thank my lucky stars for Ron Yanke and his friend Tom Nicholson for the opportunities they have created for me. If it were not for people like Ron Yanke, the world would not only be a poorer place but an emptier place. There will never be another Ron Yanke and very few like him. As Jim Nelson said at Ron's funeral, "God doesn't make too many like Ron Yanke. They are too complicated."

The words of Jimmy Buffett and Mac McAnally from "Oysters And Pearls" say it best:

How does it happen,
How do we know,
Who sits and watches
Who does the show?

Some people love to lead
And some refuse to dance.
Some play it safely
Others take a chance.

Still it's all a mystery
This place we call the world
Where most live as oysters
While some become pearls.

Ronald Yanke was the most precious of pearls.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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