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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey both cite Rand’s books as influential, though Mackey has said he doesn’t believe businesses exist solely to make a profit and selfishness is a virtue. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, is a notorious Rand fan; Patrick W.

In Silicon Valley, Rand’s ideas appeal to generations of entrepreneurs who built the computer industry and the Internet. Grady named his company Rearden Commerce after the steel magnate Hank Rearden from Atlas.

Still, BB&T’s charitable arm donated several million dollars to start classes devoted to Rand’s philosophy on university campuses.

At Marshall University’s Lewis College of Business, which received a $1 million BB&T grant, Cal Kent teaches a course that studies Atlas alongside Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.

How did a Russian-born novelist become such an influential "thought leader" for American CEOs, entrepreneurs, and MBAs — and even Alan Greenspan?