The fresh-faced teenager in the McDonald's commercial might be smiling and seem friendly, but fast-food legend Ray Kroc once said, "If I ever saw a competitor drowning, I'd put a live fire hose in his mouth."
Don't judge the late Ray Kroc too harshly. He was speaking of an age-old tradition. Entrepreneurs have always trounced the competition, and it hasn't always been pretty. in the 1800s, John D. Rockefeller made Standard Oil company into a monopoly, controlling 90 percent of the oil market, by negotiating secret rebates with railroads, bribing Congressmen and committing industrial espionage. About the same time, in England, the United Kingdom Telegraph Company hired men to cut down the poles of its rival, Electric Telegraph Company. As that century closed, newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst helped start the Spanish-American War to sell newspapers and crush his competition. More recently, Microsoft has been in the news facing accusations of using unfair business practices in an attempt to build its own monopoly.
But while entrepreneurs have always been against the opposing team, the way we're competing is changing. "Competition isn't as cutthroat as it used to be," observes Roger Nagel, a professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and co-author of Cooperate to Compete: Building Agile Business Relationships (John Wiley & Sons) and Agile Competitors and Virtual Organizations: Strategies for Enriching the Customer (John Wiley & Sons). "When you're finished with your competitors, you no longer have to see them lying on the ground."
And as competition evolves, entrepreneurs like Leon Richter are actually finding they enjoy it. Call it the thrill of competition-it's a rush; it's a natural high; it's the kick you get making a deal before your nemesis does.
Richter, 29, is the CEO of Justice Telecom, a $100 million telecommunications solution provider based in Los Angeles that competes for shares of the overseas phone market in places like Scandinavia, South America, and the United Arab Emirates. To hear Richter tell it, his company is a dinghy competing against the ocean tide, but he nevertheless wakes up in a good mood every day. "It's absolutely a thrill," says Richter of competition. "It's a huge motivation for us."
In the competitive world of journalism, Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur and a features writer for The Cincinnati Post. He recently saw his first feature in Ladies' Home Journal.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.