False Idols: How Billionaire Worship Is Blinding Us to Reality
By Nicole Casperson
The American public has a fascination with billionaires.
As Sam Bankman-Fried and the FTX case show, this admiration – fueled mainly by mainstream media and our society’s obsession with wealth and greed – can often blind people to the reality of these individuals.
Just last month, everyone from industry insiders to social media fans was lauding the pronouncements of SBF as the billionaire crypto investor that would save the industry.
Whether it is Elon Musk’s haphazard management of Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg’s cavalier attitude towards user data, or even Adam Neuman raising more money in a single round than all Black entrepreneurs in a single quarter, it is clear that billionaires are not always the saviors they are made out to be.
We continuously place toxic white male (because it is almost always a man) billionaires on a pedestal and idolize them as saviors who will use their ‘genius’ to save the world.
Until one day, they get caught in their web of lies.
Falling for this archetype is about as American as apple pie.
So it’s no surprise that Americans quickly anoint new billionaires as geniuses and saviors. We want to believe in their greatness, even when there’s little evidence to support it.
It’s a cautionary tale, for sure. But, it’s giving: Damsel in Distress.
But it’s also one we’ve seen play out repeatedly. From Enron to WorldCom, from Lehman Brothers to Bernard Madoff, Americans tend to put their faith in those who prioritize wealth and greed. And time and time again, we’re left disappointed.
The thing is, we don’t always learn from our mistakes. Instead, we believe in the myth of the male billionaire genius, even when all evidence points to the contrary.
This is especially true in the world of finance and technology. Unfortunately, we continue to believe that Silicon Valley and Wall Street are magical places where anything is possible, even when the evidence shows that it’s just a bunch of rich white men benefiting from a system rigged in their favor.
This is what places fintech in a position full of opportunity and possibility. But we need to recognize the reality of the situation and work to change the system to benefit everyone, not just a select few.
We need to do better. We need to demand more from the fintech industry. We need to hold our industry leaders accountable for their lack of diversity and inclusion. We must fight for a better future for everyone, not just the wealthy elite.
We have an increasingly inequitable country with a shrinking middle class, women’s rights are at stake, and a growing number of people are living in poverty.
Now, crypto – and subsequently fintech – as an industry meant to bridge wealth gaps is losing trust and confidence because we continue to worship the wrong leaders.
The main issue with billionaire worship is that they commonly surround themselves with yes-men and people who agree with them and refuse to listen to feedback, resulting in more significant errors and behavior that raises ethical concerns.
Glamorizing these stories through media trickles into our daily lives and our society:
– We become more tolerant of their bad behavior
– We excuse their bad behavior
– We begin to see these qualities as positive
There needs to be a relationship between getting funding and press coverage and being an effective CEO and impactful leader.
This is because the skills required to be a good CEO differ from those needed to raise money or get media attention.
Women and people of color leading in finance and technology are often overlooked because men raise more money and, inherently, garner more media attention.
This is especially true in the tech industry, where the pressure to grow quickly and secure funding can be immense. Unfortunately, this often leads to startups making decisions outside the company’s best interest or the product, ultimately leading to failure.
We should look up to those who have positively impacted society, even if they haven’t made as much money. Money isn’t everything; it shouldn’t be the only thing we value. Instead, we must start valuing kindness, compassion, and experiences.
We need diversity in the ranks of the people in fintech.
To begin with, the crypto industry is so divisive because a series of white men took control of the narrative, and it’s so clear they don’t understand what it takes to create global financial inclusion because they’ve never experienced exclusion.
Welcome to the world of women, people of color, and marginalized communities who face societal adversity and exclusion day in and out despite their hard work and excellence.
Let’s look up to entrepreneurs of color and women who have faced adversity and carved out a place for themselves in the world. They have strong values, unlike those who are only motivated by money, memes, and popularity.
I’ve sat in many newsrooms, and the mistake I see many editors and reporters make when deciding what type of industry leader to put on a magazine or headline is asking questions about money, a product, or a tactic first.
So, for example, they might say, how much funding have they raised? And if it’s too small, they consider the story too small to cover.
And when women and people of color make up less than 2% of funding dollars, we have a severe representation problem.
To solve it, we can start by changing our mindsets.
Think about a tree. The tactics and the products are like the leaves of a tree. That’s the most visible surface.
So, of course, it’s what people might ask about first. But we should start with the roots of that tree.
The roots of that tree are a leader’s values. So it’s that question of what matters most. And from those roots stem the tree trunk, which is their philosophy of life, the type of life they want to lead, and from that philosophy, their objectives or goals.
How does that philosophy of living translate into specific goals? That’s the tree trunk.
From there, you go out into the branches of the tree, and they represent the strategy. So now that you know a leader’s philosophy of living, you know their goals.
Now you can see the strategies for how to obtain those goals.
Once you have that strategy in place, those leaves are the tactics and the products. So if you’re starting with a question about tactics or products, you still need to build that root system.
This is exactly how I structure my content to cover plenty of entrepreneurs out there who are using their businesses to make a positive impact.
And we need to start supporting them. We need to stop glorifying the people who are only in it for themselves and start helping those who are making a difference.
I’ve documented the authentic and vulnerable stories of fintech leaders who genuinely make a difference in three seasons of my podcast, Humans of Fintech, and through my event series, Fintech Is Femme.
Looking for someone in our industry to idolize? Pick from this list.
Society and industry must start investing in our people and communities and stop worshipping billionaires.
We need to start valuing hard work, determination, and grit. We need to start sacrificing short-term gain for long-term stability.
This is not an issue that we can ignore any longer.
We must demand that the tech industry take diversity and inclusion seriously. We need to see more women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ people in leadership positions.
We need to see more diverse voices being heard and represented. This will take a lot of work, but we must do it to see a better future for everyone.
We must be willing to fight for what’s right, even when it’s complicated. So let’s stand up and demand better from the industry. Let’s fight for a future that includes everyone.