One of Houston's strengths as a community has been the active leadership of many individuals and organizations. Houston is an entrepreneurial capital, with thousands of new firms being formed each year. In the 1980s, more than 16,000 new companies were added to Houston's economy. The new firms are helping to diversify Houston's economy in the aerospace, biomedical, medical, services, software, technology and other fields.
Houston has been ruled by a strong business elite from its first decade. The character of that establishment has changed over time, but in most decades since the 1830s the local power structure has been dominated by business leaders such as merchants, cotton, "factors," bankers, oil entrepreneurs, developers, lawyers, and corporate executives in multinational firms. In some cities politicians have emerged out of urban machines or union backgrounds to compete with business leaders, but not generally in Houston. The top city politicians, with rare exceptions, have been members of or heavily dependent on the business elites.
The first group to dominate the city was composed of the founding entrepreneurs, the Allen brothers, and a few other merchants. General and cotton merchants were very influential over the next few decades, making the initial economic and political decisions that created the city of Houston. But they made those decisions within the context of, and limited by the logic of, the pre-capitalist plantation economy and the commercial capitalistic economy.
In the 1880s and 1890s the merchant aggregation was supplemented with a group of bankers, lawyers, and railroad entrepreneur. They, too, made decisions that shaped the economic structure and spatial layout of the city, but within a more national political-economic framework than their predecessors. This framework allowed a broader range of decisions because of greater available resources. But it also, depending on the issue, provided more institutional restrictions; i.e. the municipal bond structure to the troubled banking system. By the late 1920s a few oil entrepreneurs had become part of the city's power structure.
In the late 1930s the most cohesive clique emerged, one with a distinctive name (later called the "Suite 8F crowd"). This elite appears to have been the most powerful in the city's history, largely because of its cohesion and its distinctive personalities as well as its corporate networks and national and international resources. Operating in an expanding world economy, this group presided over several decades of Houston's formative city growth and development. When Suite 8F power waned in the 70s, a larger and less cohesive power structure emerged; the Houston Chamber of Commerce more or less moved to the center of the business leadership. This organization is headed by an assortment of principal corporate executives, but its influence has been limited by the larger contextual factors associated with a major disinvestment and declining-rate-of-profit cycle in the sectors of the capitalistic economy vital to the city of Houston.
The following educational and informational presentation is a partial list of community and business leaders representing a broad cross section of the Houston region, more leaders will be represented on this site in future updates. Some of these past leaders that are featured in this section may stir up certain emotions among Houstonians. We only ask this question...how can we attempt to preserve Houston history if we don't have and accurate portrayal of the impact these individuals had on the landscape of our city's history? Therefore we have chosen to include these past leaders in order to present an accurate reflection of the history of Houston.
There are many more individuals that have been nominated to be added to this section by our visitors and we have decided to have these nominees featured exclusively on our community.
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If there is a Houstonian you did not find featured here and would like to nominate them to be featured as a Who's Who, contact us.