As all the cash register sound-effects clearly indicate, Mr. Gore has generated a significant amount of personal wealth since he left office; this in itself is not entirely unusual for someone who enters the private sector after a lifetime of public service. Money has long been a tonic for former politicians who leave, or are invited to leave, their jobs — think symbolic board posts, memoirs, corporate keynote speeches, a lifetime of hefty honoraria. And, after his dramatic 2000 nonelection, Gore might have limped along to just that sort of life. Significant wealth alone does not a Fast Company cover subject make, however.
In what may be one of the greatest brand makeovers in history, Gore has become an international darling, hailed as a visionary on everything from climate change to Iraq. He’s an Academy Award winner, a best-selling author, a front-runner for the Nobel Prize, and a concert promoter who turned out to be a bigger rock star at this year’s Grammys than the rock stars themselves.
But what no one is talking about is that Gore has also become a stunningly successful businessman and entrepreneur, using the Petri dish of business to explore his deeply felt ideas about how the world works, doesn’t work, and could work better. (In addition to being associated with two of the most successful technology companies in history, Google and Apple, he has also co-founded a cable network and an asset management company, both boasting radically new, and profitable, business models. They are becoming quiet forces in their respective fields.) And this, in many ways, has fueled his extraordinary comeback.
If I believed in the concept of a “natural”, I’d say Al Gore is about the most natural entrepreneur I’d ever met. Instead, we make the case — with his help — that a lifetime in government actually prepared him to take full advantage of the possibilities that exist, at least in theory, in the private sector. But he brings a tremendous ability to the table — some of the very same stuff that tripped him up as a candidate. (If you’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth, you know he can handle, and prefers, complex data. Tough to get a soundbite out of him. Especially if he doesn’t want to give one.) He’s also a person of immeasureable charm and persuasiveness; he can work a room and a Rolodex like few others. He’s deeply introspective. He’s got the guts to invest his own money; he’s hands on, yet trusts his partners and team members. (He credits them with much of his success. In every meaningful way, this is their story, too.)
For nearly two months, I’ve watched crowds filled with people of every size, shape, color and perspective clamor to get a chance to greet the Veep. Just to touch him. He was the star attraction at the Tribeca Film Festival’s opening gala; he conversed effortlessly with programmers at an Adobe conference — he’d circled the globe presenting his slideshow and attending meetings at least twice in the time it took me to write the piece. The “robo-candidate” of Y2K is gone — he appears relaxed, happy in his own skin, passionately engaged in issues he gets to choose, with an agenda he gets to set. As a result, he’s reenergized both his fans and his detractors — nobody is neutral on the subject of Gore — to powerfully emotional debates on everything from the issues of the day to his weight. And, he is the subject of endless political speculation. Will he? Won’t he? (We give our own best guess in the story.)
It comes a surprise to everyone except the people who know him and work with him, that Gore has turned out to be such an extraordinarily nimble entrepreneur. And yes, he’s made a tremendous amount of money. But this profile — a business tale hiding in plain sight — is how he did it.