5 Forever or Forgotten: The Legacy of Today's VIPs - Part 1

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller: we're all familiar with the 19th and 20th century moguls who laid the foundation for our third millennium brand of capitalism. Vivid personal histories, transformational innovations, on-going philanthropies -- not to mention right-place-at-the-right-time good luck -- all ensured their place in business history.

This raises an interesting and obvious question -- which of our modern Midases will be remembered a hundred years hence and which will join the rest of us in the legions of the long forgotten?

Destiny or dustbin? Flash in the pan, or member of the pantheon; the following slide show posits some predictions from the fields of entertainment, investing, real estate and technology. Agree, disagree -- post your comments below.

Donald Trump: FORGOTTEN

The hair . . . the headlines . . the hubris . . . how could anyone forget The Donald?

Well, it turns out we can, and we will. Every generation produces its own version of the flashy, self-promoting real estate hot shot. New York City's Fifth Avenue is lined with ego-infused erections to long-forgotten tycoons. Who today remembers August Heckscher, noted in the New York Times as the builder of the beautiful Crown Building at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street or Fred F. French, also recorded by the NYT as the developer of the proud, eponymous pile at Fifth Avenue and 45th St.. Irwin S. Chanin, millionaire visionary behind the landmarked "Chanin Building" and numerous Broadway theaters, merits only a five-line Wikipedia article.

In comparison to the above-mentioned masterpieces, Trump Tower and all its copy-cat condos and casinos, are already starting to look tired, dated and . . . forgettable.

OK, I can't resist -- sorry Donald, you're gonna be fired.

Michael Bloomberg: FOREVER

Sometimes, thankfully, a quiet, unassuming mensch comes out ahead -- and is remembered accordingly.

Being both the mayor of New York City and the wealthiest man in New York City is an unprecedented feat that won't be soon repeated or forgotten. In years to come, when petty politicians are back in power at City Hall, we'll hearken back nostalgically to our current effacing, efficient executive/mayor.

In the meantime, Bloomberg's name graces a privately held, multibillion dollar media conglomerate, a cable channel, a radio network, a magazine, an 800 ft. office tower, a ubiquitous machine found on the desk of every global trader, banker and money manager and a lauded, $2 billion family foundation . . .

Yup, Bloomberg's name will be around for a good long time.

Warren Buffet: FORGOTTEN

Warren Buffet is a nice man who read chapters 8 and 20 of Ben Graham's Intelligent Investor (1949) and used the learnings to make $37 billion. He also writes nice letters to to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A) ( BRK.B) and presents himself nicely to the media. He lives in a nice house in the nice city of Omaha, Neb. Nice, yes -- memorable, no.

Investors, even legendary investors like Buffet, have a hard time achieving immortality. They don't start iconic companies that put snacks on your table, computers on your desk or cars in your garage. Instead Buffet invests in these firms, and -- yawn -- insurance companies and banks, sometimes via obscure offerings that will be hard to discern for a future fifth grader writing her "My Hero in History" essay. In short, Buffet's success in staying out of the limelight has determined that he'll also stay out of the history books.

Of course Buffet could alter this verdict with a five-minute phone call. Instead of bequeathing his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with no strings attached, he could insist on a name-change; or he could start his own charitable trust. But one gets the sense that Buffet is happy to maintain his low profile into eternity.

Bill Gates - FOREVER

Speaking of Bill Gates . . . of course this guy is gonna be remembered! First off, the richest guy in America always gets a free pass to an enduring legacy. Gates likewise nails every requirement of the memorable American success story. Teenage prodigy? Check. Visionary entrepreneur? Check. Excellent executive? Check. Passionate philanthropist? Check. All that's missing is a hardscrabble upbringing.

Alas, the beloved son of a Junior League president and a pleasantly prosperous attorney, William Henry Gates III enjoyed a privileged and happy childhood; he didn't walk to school in the snow, he walked to the University of Washington to teach himself coding.

Geeky enough to be loved, and evil enough to be hated, Gates will keep biographers busy for decades. And his three children will carry on his name and work hard to maintain his legacy; one can't imagine Bill Gates raising wastrels.

Finally, at 57, Gates could enjoy several more decades of productive work; his father is still alive and vigorous at 87. What could be next for Gates: another paradigm-shifting breakthrough at Microsoft ( MSFT); a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work for eradicating polio; a personal challenge from which he'll crash and burn or, more likely, survive and thrive? Whatever Gates does for the next 30 years will only serve to maintain and burnish his legacy.

Oprah Winfrey - FORGOTTEN

Oprah not remembered? No way! How could legend-in-her-own-time Oprah Winfrey -- great humanitarian, picker of presidents and mega-, single-name star -- not go down in the history books?

Well, to start, when was the last time you watched a rerun of the "Jack Paar Show?" Oprah's interview with Lance Armstrong may have made headlines last month, but no one will care in the years ahead; her content is consumed and forgotten, as it's created.

Moreover, Oprah's "OWN" network is a flop; continuing to flog it will drain both her reputation and her not unlimited fortune. And Oprah's philanthropic efforts, while praiseworthy, are not destined for the ages. Any run-of-the-mill billionaire can start a school for 152 under-privileged girls; Laura Rockefeller funded much-larger Spelman College in 1882.

Lastly, Oprah's success as an independent African-American businesswoman is not unprecedented. Madam C.J. Walker was a millionaire entrepreneur long before Oprah was born. Perhaps Oprah should produce a movie about Walker's life; her OWN studios are underutilized and at the ready.

But Oprah is a young 59. She has plenty of tricks to pull from her sometimes-fat-sometimes-thin sleeves: Goodwill Ambassador Winfrey; Tennessee State University President Winfrey; UN Secretary-General Winfrey; POTUS Winfrey . . . lasting fame is still within her grasp.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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