4. Cyrus McCormick Sr: The Father of Modern Agriculture
“One step at a time, the hardest one first.”
Cyrus McCormick Sr. spoke these words from his own truth. Born on February 15, 1809 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, his father Robert McCormick, Jr. was also an inventor, who worked for 28 years on a horse-drawn mechanical reaper to harvest grain; however, he was never able to reproduce a reliable version.
Cyrus McCormick Sr. took over where his father left off, receiving a patent on the reaper on June 21, 1834, two years after having been granted a patent for a self-sharpening plow. He prevailed as an entrepreneur through his ability to find capitalists to fund the machine and salesmen to get it to farmers. With his innovation, farmers doubled their production, contributing significantly to U.S. prosperity and its status as an agricultural superpower. His company later became International Harvester Co.
After his father’s death, McCormick and one of his brothers moved to Chicago, where they established a factory to build their machines. At the time, other cities in the Midwest were more established and prosperous; Chicago had no paved streets, but the city had the best water transportation from the east over the Great Lakes for his raw materials, as well as railroad connections to the farther west where his customers would be. The McCormick reaper sold well, partially as a result of savvy and innovative business practices. Their products came onto the market just as the development of railroads offered wide distribution to distant markets. McCormick developed marketing and sales techniques, developing a wide network of salesmen trained to demonstrate operation of the machines in the field, as well as to get parts quickly and repair machines in the field if necessary during crucial times in the farm year.
5. Andrew Carnegie: Philanthropic Steel Magnate
“No man can become rich without him enriching others.”
Once described as the richest man in the world, Andrew Carnegie believed the wealthy have a moral obligation to give away their fortunes. But it’s not his well-documented philanthropic efforts that place him as one of the greatest entrepreneurs. Carnegie foresaw the future demand for iron and steel at a time when railroads and bridges were largely wooden. He drove down production costs in his steel factories, where he implemented new, more efficient technologies that helped the United States surpass Britain in steel output. Carnegie attributed his industrial success to placing the right people in the right positions. He suggested for his own epitaph, “Here lies a man who was able to surround himself with men far cleverer than himself.”
Incidentally, his mentorship to personal-development guru Napoleon Hill laid the groundwork for Think and Grow Rich, arguably the greatest business self-help book of all time. What started as an unpaid assignment for Hill, then a young journalist, became a 20-year exploration of the common success traits of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.
6. Charles Schwab: Trailblazer in How We Invest
There’s an old marketing adage that states, “When everyone is headed in one direction, chances are your best opportunities lie in the opposite direction.”
Charles Schwab clearly takes this to heart. By turning his back on stodgy Wall Street conventions, he blazed his own trail and sparked an investing revolution. At a time when most brokers were battling for large institutional clients, Schwab focused his attention on the individual investor. As one of the first brokers to offer low-cost, no-frills trading services, Schwab pioneered the discount brokerage industry and transformed a struggling firm into one of the nation’s largest traders. To afford such discounts and still make money, Schwab did away with the traditional service of offering research, put his staff on salary, and automated order processing via computer – one of the first brokerages to do so.
Schwab’s company reduced trade commissions and gave more power to consumers to pick and choose their investments. He also introduced e-commerce investing, allowing clients to execute, buy, and sell orders online.
Schwab once said, “A man can succeed at almost anything for which he has unlimited enthusiasm,” and his own enthusiasm and entrepreneurship truly changed the way the average person could invest money.