Greg Carr’s Big Gamble

In a watershed experiment, the Boston entrepreneur is putting $40 million of his own money into a splendid but ravaged park in Mozambique

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Then he says Samatenje realizes that the visitors did not intend to offend; they were just given bad advice.

Carr leans back on his grass mat and gives a short laugh. Well, he muses, this is more civil than the community meetings he went to back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while he was building his foundation's headquarters. His Mozambican contacts had coached him on many practices—he had brought black and white cloths for Samatenje's ceremony and traditional gifts of wine and tobacco—but customs differ even between nearby communities.

Samatenje talks with some local leaders. Ultimately, the word comes back: there will be no blessing.

It is dark by the time Carr's group boards the helicopter. "Maybe this is good," Carr says. "When Samatenje finally gives his blessing, it will carry more weight." Carr talks about the regulo who was made to change his clothes, a man he had only met today. "Maybe this is an opening," Carr says, a chance to get to know him better and enlist his support.

At first glance, Carr, 47 and single, seems a better fit for Cambridge's Harvard Square than this remote patch of Africa. He is partial to khakis and battered loafers and is rarely separated from his laptop. His open face brightens when he talks about his native Idaho. He says "Wow!" a lot.

He grew up in Idaho Falls, the youngest of seven children. His father was a surgeon, his mother a homemaker. As a child, he says, he played in the potato fields and spent a lot of time reading. He liked dreaming up mini-societies, trying to figure out how people could survive in a bubble on Mars, or under the ocean, or in a besieged castle. In the sixth grade he wrote a paper about the number of caribou a tribe of imaginary island dwellers could eat each year without damaging their environment.

Carr was 16 when Mozambique became independent, in 1975. He was reading Darwin's Origin of Species at the time. "That was a transformative experience," he says, one that inspired a "lifelong love of biology." Yet when he followed his siblings to Utah State University, Carr majored in history. He embraced the concept of laws higher than kings, and rights higher than laws. "The idea that every human on earth should have basic human rights—I became really excited about that idea," he says.

After graduating first in his class, he enrolled in a master's program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, en route, he then thought, toward getting a PhD. (Indeed, Harvard accepted him into its doctoral program in linguistics.) But while at the Kennedy School studying the ongoing breakup of AT&T, Carr realized that the Ma Bell divestiture would mean opportunities—that there was money to be made from telecommunication services. "I had the idea at 25 that if I made a lot of money," he says, "then I could do whatever I wanted."

In the spring of 1986, while finishing his master's degree, Carr maxed out his credit cards to start a company with Scott Jones, a 25-year-old scientist at an MIT lab, to provide voice-mail services to the emerging Baby Bells. The pair called their new company Boston Technology; after four years it was the nation's number one voice-mail provider to the telephone companies.

Don Picard, one of the first employees Carr and Jones hired, recalls that the company was both big on teamwork and long on self-confidence. The co-founders expected their employees to match their own obsession with work, says Picard, who was a software engineer, and they gave them equity in the company. "We're all Type A personalities," Picard says. "But I never got the sense working with them that it was about their ego. It really was, 'Look what we can do.' And it really was about 'we,' not ‘I.'"


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