Left-Right ~ Left-Right ~ Forward March.
That’s a drill known – and fondly remembered by millions of Americans who have volunteered to serve their country in military service.
Foster Friess, one of Delaware’s best –known entrepreneurs, is repurposing that drill to bridge the increasingly harsh partisan divide in American politics and to find the political middle for constructive progress.
Foster – who I’ve known for about 20 years, since we had neighboring offices in Greenville on Kennett Pike – is about as enigmatic as a billboard on I-95. He represents the ultimate in personal, professional and business transparency. Frankly, he does not have a subtle bone in his body.
When one looks at “self-made men” who have achieved great, even global, fame and honors for their success, those having done so in Delaware in the last generation or two make up a very short list. Perhaps the late Bill Gore and his wife Genevieve. Foster Friess and his wife Lynn. And, well, when one is talking about the creation of nine-digits of personal wealth, the list becomes very short very fast.
Widely acclaimed to be a billionaire fund-manager, having founded and subsequently sold his Brandywine Funds, Foster is in “aw shucks” denial of that speculation. In fact, wealth estimators for Forbes.com speculated late in 2012 that his net worth was only a little north of $500 million. But, of course, the market has done quite well since then. So, who knows?
After he sold off Brandywine Funds, Foster and Lynn retired to their beloved Western ranch in Wyoming. Both ideas, though, are misnomers. They never really left Delaware, whose people remain #1 in their hearts. And retirement is not in the vocabulary of Foster Friess, who says he now is approaching 75 years old.
All that is background for a Chase Center dinner last week for more than 500 people hastily assembled in just 10 days or so by Cliint Laird, EDiS’ Brian DiSabatino, WSFS Bank’s Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals, and Young Conaway’s Tim Houseal, who joined Lynn and Foster at the head table.
Foster, ordinarily a modest man, used it to poke a bit of self-deprecating fun at himself, the legends around his wealth and his reach. But, sandwiched in all that, was an important message around three important areas.
• Political Compromise in America not only is possible, but it’s essential, and it is well-served by a “left-right left-right forward march” strategic approach that has the people on each side who care about issues to reach across the partisan divide and build understanding for progress.
Among the issues on which he focused were Charter Schools for Inner Cities to improve education for the disadvantaged and poor; International Adoptions, which seem to have been in freefall, and Cleaning up the Global Water Supply, the quality of which continues to decline.
• The United States has an important role to play in the Middle East conflicts, noting that ISIS is using recently provided weapons from the US in its extinction of diverse groups from Christians to Kurds, who have armed themselves with, among other things, artillery that was produced in 1941.
It requires a diverse and complex strategy that relies on a deeper understanding of the populations and the issues there than most Americans have, compared to the simplicity of good guys – bad guys in WWII. In the continuing debate over Islam, he took the side of those who suggest that the Jihadist movement is a perversion of an otherwise civil faith.
• And, in the “red meat” of his “emperor has no clothes” remarks about the Obama Administration, he was unusually restrained in his criticism of the President.
But, nonetheless, he was straight-forward in pointing out that the president’s reluctance to focus on “Islamic Terrorism” and “Islamic Jihadist Movements” has created a politically correct but untenable domestic security situation that inhibits at the highest level the use of concepts and terms that are essential to understanding the Jihadist threat and developing strategies to protect us as Americans against it.
Foster Friess told his audience that he was seeking to empower them on three levels.
One is a faith-based level, of prayer and positive thoughts to find constructive solutions.
Another is a “good works” approach that brings home to each of us the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to make a difference on global scale issues of education, adoption, clean water, and peace.
“The preacher and the farmer were standing next to the farmer’s field, where the preacher admired its clean fields and straight rows and erect fences,” Friess told his audience. “You and the Lord have done great things with this farm,” the preacher told the farmer.
“Yes,” acknowledged the farmer, “but you should have seen how bad this was when it was just the Lord’s,” Friess said, emphasizing the obligations of successful people to leverage their blessings to make a difference for humankind.
Finally, his was a call to action for engagement in the political process, to work across the partisan divide and to find bipartisan solutions that bring common-sense solutions.
It’s never quiet when Foster Friess is in the room.
Check out his website for more information.