The Banker Who Loved Hippies!

Michael Phillips is a maverick, even by the wildly iconoclastic standards of the San Francisco Bay Area.

He was one of the principal founders of MasterCard in 1966. This innovation ushered in a revolution of consumer credit and debt that our society is still trying to get a grip on 40 years later.

Phillips is also a staunch conservative in most ways.

He despises big government and left-wing academics; believes that the threat of global warming is greatly overstated and that the threat of Islamic radicals is seriously underplayed by the mainstream media; and that “commerce, not compassion” is the only viable road to world peace.

The tagline on his blog is, “I love commerce. Commerce and technology define the ‘modern world.’ Both thrive on meritocracy, diversity and openness.” (

But Phillips has always loved and helped hippies. Perhaps this makes Phillips the real grandfather of the creative economy movement. The first hippies were American-born and -bred freethinkers and apostles of self-determination. They did the initial R&D for an increasingly technological and leisure-based society.

Their “free love” led to the cultural norm of serial monogamy. Their tofu, sprouts, brown rice and granola gave us the Whole Foods organic lifestyle. Their proclivity for electronics gave us the Apple computer, aka “the hippie computer,” and the Well, which was the first widely used interactive Web site. Their penchant for comfortable, flowing clothes and spaces lead to Dockers pants and the flexible, low-partition office landscape, not to mention Casual Friday. Herbal tea, tai chi and mind/body therapies morphed into the multibillion-dollar alternative medicine movement. And the list just goes on…

New York Times columnist David Brooks offers an insightful and humorous look at this cultural and economic revolution in his book “BoBos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There.” (“BoBo” is an abbreviated reference to Bourgeois Bohemians.) Check out reviews of the book on

Getting back to Michael Phillips and the early ’70s hippie San-Fran scene puts us in the Briar Patch.

This was probably the first and only real business incubator that was created without government, corporate or foundation funds. In fact, Phillips literally gave away his consulting expertise…which for a banker is probably the ultimate gift of love.

Phillips helped free spirits harness their ambitious visions and energy to the demanding structures and disciplines of a profitable and sustainable business.

His expertise help create the Palo Alto Computer Learning Center, where Steve Jobs met Steve Wozniak; the original store that created The Body Shop chain; and Margo St. James’ prostitute’s union.

Today’s Tampa Bay is no “Hippie Haven.” But it is a “Boomer Town.”

Perhaps some aging baby boomers with stellar establishment credentials (but who were somewhat anti-establishment in their youth) will start interacting with the current crop of young hipsters/activists/artists/entrepreneurs.

Our Bay Area could become a hotspot for successful new and creative businesses over the next decade. But we need to create our own Briar Patches. Thank you, Michael Phillips, for showing us what is possible when the marketplace meets flower power.

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