Patrick M. Byrne is the CEO of the Internet retailer Overstock.com. Byrne received his B.A. from Dartmouth, studied at Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, and earned a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford University. He co-founded Overstock.com in 1997 and became CEO in 1999. In 2005, Byrne initiated a controversial campaign against "naked short selling" in which he accused a "Sith Lord" and various financial firms of sabotaging Overstock's share price. Byrne also serves as head of First Class Education, an education lobbying group that seeks to require that 65% of all educational spending be spent "in the classroom." A strong proponent of school vouchers, Byrne spent almost four million dollars in advertising for a bill that would have given Utah residents who enroll their children in private schools taxpayer-supported subsidies. The bill lost, 62-38%.
Patrick Byrne: It’s hard to outgrow a heavy Catholic upbringing. I certainly had that. I was an altar boy and left when I was about 13 or 14 and became interested in Asian philosophy. My sense of how the world works is very Daoist, which is to say Daoism . . . Daoism became ..., which in Japan is pronounced “...”. So it’s my, I guess, a Zen sense of how the world works. My sense of my obligations in the world probably come from that . . . that Catholic upbringing. So I’d say if I had a personal philosophy, it would be those . . . those two. I have no disrespect for organized religion, but to me it’s a handrail. And it’s a handrail to help you get somewhere. I mean the idea is . . . The goal is getting . . . Well it’s not even a goal; but there’s that place and those handrails, and it’s easy to confuse the two. I’d say only in the sense of . . . I’m not sure that anything has any meaning. I’m not sure that 50 million years from now, anything we’ve done means anything more than what some ants are crawling around on a rock mean anything more than they have. But if there is meaning, that meaning is to be found in service. It’s in the way you live your life and the . . . and the real service you provided other people. But I’m not even sure that . . . I’m not sure that makes the grade. We may all just end up ...some ants crawling around on a rock in space.
Recorded on: 10/29/07