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Published: Tuesday, 9/26/2000 - Updated: 1 year ago

Old-style entrepreneur a cut above

In the subdivision of my childhood, there was a nice young guy whose work ethic made all our parents nod approvingly.

He started out young - junior high, maybe? - mowing lawns. We kids would see him wandering the neighborhood on hot summer days, shirtless, pushing a hand mower to the next job.

Then one summer, he moved up in the world. As the rest of us silly children played aimlessly in our yards, he scooted past on the street - on a riding mower. And before we quite understood what happened, one summer we noticed his mower wasn't chug-chugging along the streets.

His big truck was.

The one with the professional sign advertising his company's name, towing a big trailer with commercial-sized riding mowers, edge trimmers, Weed Whackers and, yes, the work crew he'd hired.

By then, the rest of us were edging toward our teen years.

We fretted over dippy things - unfair curfews, the status of our driving privileges - while, soon afterward, the neighborhood's youngest entrepreneur sold off his well-established company.

I want to say he headed to Florida, although maybe Florida just seems like the kind of place where Early Retirement Lawn Czars go after they've edged their last sidewalk.

I've been thinking about this guy lately.

What our parents once pointed to as the zenith of youthful business acumen now seems so Old Economy, especially in the face of what one New York tabloid so artfully called Blunder Boy - that New Jersey teen accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of less-than-honorable trading tactics.

Executive Summary: Jonathan Lebed, a 15-year-old with an affinity for investing since age 11, agreed to repay $285,000 worth of profits and interest the SEC says he earned illegally.

How? What the feds call a "pump and dump" scheme, driving up the price of his stock buys by touting them on Internet investment sites.

"At about 14," an SEC district administrator told the Washington Post, Jonathan "crossed into the dark side."

The SEC may think of it as the dark side, but this story rates one big wink and a nudge. Sure, the kid broke the law. But he raked in over a quarter mil! You gotta love a kid like that!

"I'm feeling great today. I have nothing to worry about," Jonathan told the Post.

His 16-year-old partner, with whom Jonathan runs two Internet companies, told the Post: "He's a cool guy. He's making money."

His 47-year-old neighbor told the New York Post: "I'm sorry none of my kids can do that! My son also is into the market - evidently not as successfully as [Jonathan] was."

Bad Jonathan. B-a-d boy.

But what a great kid! A virtual money magnet! We've never had such an admirably bad child to scold with such awe.

The whiz kid's latest plan? Well, if what he told the New York Daily News holds, you could say Jonathan is evolving as might be expected. First, he wants to build his businesses and start others.

Then, he says, "I'd like to get involved with local politics."

Me, I miss the kids who mow lawns.

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Readers may contact her at 724-6086, or e-mail roberta@theblade.com.



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