1. Benjamin Franklin: An Original Entrepreneur
“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”
Benjamin Franklin’s philosophic words mirrored the actions in his life.
Franklin was a printer and self-taught writer whose witty conversational writing style made his Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack the most successful publications in the country. His printing operations were so popular that he franchised printing in other cities when the concept of franchising was relatively uncommon. Franklin was a solutions man who turned potential problems into silver linings. He also understood the importance of networking, striving to improve both himself and his community. In this process, he made valuable connections that came to help him when bidding for lucrative government printing work.
Franklin and his wife also collected cotton rags, invested in paper mills, and set up a wholesale paper business. By age 42, he had acquired such wealth that he retired, and was able to concentrate on his inventions, science, and experiments and, of course, politics and diplomacy.
2. Henry Ford: Lasting Legacy
“Stay true to your vision and follow your instincts-even if your backers advise otherwise.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, the automobile was a plaything for the rich. Most models were complicated machines that only a chauffer conversant with the individual mechanical nuances could drive it.
Henry Ford was determined to build a simple and reliable car that the average American worker could afford. His goal ran counter to the wishes of his backers at Ford Motor Co., who sought to maximize profits by building cars for the rich.
As a key initiator of the moving assembly line, the company mass-produced cars faster and cheaper than other companies. Ford also paid his workers a real living wage and, through mass consumption, made Ford Motor Co. very profitable–eventually buying out even the most skeptical of backers. Perhaps most importantly, he helped create a middle class with “America’s Everyman Car,” his black Model T (the only color the company produced for years).
Ford’s ingenuity and acumen left a legacy that reaches far beyond the Model T’s driver’s seat. His stunning success didn’t occur because of a masterful business sense; he was more of an idea man – a true entrepreneur.
3. John D. Rockefeller: Setting the Standard for Business and Philanthropy
“Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”
John D. Rockefeller was the single most important figure in the foundation of the oil industry. With his brother and other partners, he founded Standard Oil in 1870 and built it into one of the world’s first and largest multinational corporations.
With an extreme focus on efficiency and buying or shutting down competitors, the company controlled almost 90% of the country’s refined oils by the 1890s. Rockefeller, as controlling partner and the largest shareholder, became a billionaire and eventually the world’s richest man. In 1911, because of anti-trust litigation, the Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil must split into 38 companies. Two of those companies eventually became Exxon and Mobil, which merged in 1999.
Rockefeller, who remained a major shareholder although he had retired from running the company in 1896, turned his focus to charitable endeavors. Some argued that he used philanthropy as a moral shield from the critics of his aggressive business practices. But he was as calculating in his giving as he was in business, creating the modern systematic approach to targeted philanthropy, with foundations benefiting medicine, education, and scientific research. The Rockefeller wealth, distributed as it was through a system of foundations and trusts, continues to fund family philanthropic ventures today.