Tim McCarthy and the Business of Good

The Liberal Art of Business

Nov 1, 2023 6:04:26 AM / by Tim McCarthy

The last thing I expected when I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science was that I would have a successful business career.  My pursuit of a business degree lasted one semester and ended with barely receiving Cs in economics, accounting, and finance.

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So why have I and so many of my liberal art friends done so well in business?

Because people are more important than numbers.  Accountants, financial strategists, and bankers are essential but managing financial capital is less important than managing human capital.  You can go out of business mismanaging financial capital but it’s impossible to start or grow a business mismanaging people. 

Which requires:

  • Psychology and Sociology
  • Human Resources and Leadership
  • Communication, advertising, and marketing

Some of my favorite quotations that relate to the importance of liberal arts in managing people:

  • “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. A modern management maxim.
  • “Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Steve Jobs
  • “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” Andy Warhol

Hard skills are important, that’s why I went back to school to earn a business degree in my 50s.  Reading profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and using available technology to reach beneath the numbers are essential skills for business leaders to understand.  The economist Henry Kaufman wrote, “What fascinated me about [Peter] Drucker…is how he infuses his broad perspective on business issues with philosophical and historical considerations.”

In my experience, the great leaders focus equally or more on the soft skills such as adapting to change (History), communications (English, Journalism, Creative Writing), sales (Psychology, Political Science) and working with teams (Sociology).

In short, the liberal arts.

Our investment partnership has been growing fast now for many years because our due diligence follows assessing (in order of importance) 1. People, 2. Product, 3. Process.

Think about it.  If you have a great product and even a great process, if you have the wrong people, you won’t go very far.  That’s where the soft skills of liberal arts come in.

I’ve had control in seven businesses over time, only three have succeeded.  The rest?  There are two possibilities: (1) we did not have the right people, and (2) we mismanaged the people we had.

I should have gone to class more often.  😊


Tim McCarthy 

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Tim McCarthy

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