John D. Rockefeller is indisputably one of the greatest businessmen of all time. Born on July 8, 1839 in Richford, New York, he would grow up to be one of the driving influences of American economic development. He was not born into wealth or perfect circumstances. His father William Avery Rockefeller was a philandering and traveling salesman who sold fake medical cures. He earned the nickname Devil Bill for his dishonest ways. His mother was a religious woman with a strong belief in the value of a disciplined and hard working life.
The value of this discipline would pay off exponentially for her son John. Rockefeller started working from a young age. By the time he was twelve he had saved $50.00 by working for neighbors and raising turkeys. He then provided a farmer with a $50.00 loan at 7% interest to be repaid in a year’s time. The return of his investment with interest hooked his interest and his course was set. By 1859 he had started his first business which would provide him enough capital to invest in oil in 1862 and later form one of the greatest monopoly companies of all time, Standard Oil. From his birth, no one would have expected he would become the richest man in the world. In his own words, Rockefeller has some compelling advice that is especially suitable for young entrepreneurs, but applicable to everyone.
1. “Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
In life, it can be deceptively easy to be satisfied with “good” while wanting more. It can be easy to settle in comfortable circumstances whether that is your employment, your partner, or even your education. While it is always important to manage risk in your life and your business risk is essential to success. You should not be afraid to give up something good when the opportunity for something great is in reach. Sometimes “good” things can get in the way of better opportunities. Just make sure the risk is reasonable, the price is acceptable, and that you are willing to accept the consequences of your decision.
2. “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.”
Most startups eventually fail. Many entrepreneurs have a string of failed, and near failed businesses behind them. Failure is a natural part of life, and it should not be feared. Failures are an opportunity to learn about areas of weakness in one’s self, and one’s business. If you keep improving yourself, even if your business or other venture fails there will be other opportunities. The quality of perseverance often separates the bad from the good, and the good from the great. Aim for the latter.
3. “I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity.”
Whenever disaster strikes, whether it is external or internal, in your life or business, there is often opportunity. It is important to have a mindset that looks for opportunity everywhere. If there is a problem in your company, turn it into an opportunity to strengthen it. Even simply understanding how a problem occurred and preventing a reoccurrence is a form of opportunity. Learn to turn defeats into victories. Failure is only complete if you learn nothing from it or fail to implement what you learn. Strengthening areas where you are weak is a fundamentally valuable thing.
When the disaster is external, you are presented with an outstanding opportunity. Whether it’s a natural, civic, political, or personal disaster. You have a chance to both do good, and create opportunity. If there is a sudden need for a service that you or your business can provide, step up to the challenge. Disaster often creates chaos, if you can find a way to add stability, you will benefit and so will everyone else.
4. "The most important thing for a young man is to establish a credit, a reputation, character."
Countless books, TED talks, and seminars have been given on the value of a good reputation in one form or another. Equally applicable in your personal and professional life. It is one of the most important aspects of your life, and the life of your business. A bad reputation can take moments to create, and years to put to rest. This goes beyond having a good product, or being timely with your work. One of the most important aspects of a good reputation, is your word. Keep your promises. Do what you say you will do. When you make a mistake, apologize, and rectify it if possible. Sometimes this will come at a cost to you, pay it. It’s very easy to simply say “have character” but it can be just as easy to become lazy with this. Have excellent manners, behave with dignity to everyone, especially your enemies. There is no monetary value on a good reputation. It truly is a form of credit, that opens doors, but can also close them if it’s found wanting.
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