Entrepreneurs are the great achievers of our society who have the courage, determination and belief in themselves to pursue a dream, to overcome obstacles, to nurture ideas to fruition.
The greatest entrepreneurs are those who revolutionize business, open opportunities for others and change the way we think and live. Their impact is felt for generations.
The SUCCESS 50 represents America's greatest entrepreneurs of all time. * They are self-made men and women representing a cross section of America, with innovations that opened up the West, heralded the Gilded Age, created an American middle class and ushered in the Information Age. While we believe these men and women to be the best of the best, their accomplishments are varied and not easily compared and, therefore, they are not ranked on this list.
Some of their names may not be familiar, but the impact of their accomplishments is enormous. The lessons we deduce from their ingenuity, spirit and determination are invaluable. With the SUCCESS 50, we bring you these timeless lessons, as applicable to your life and business today as they were in shaping the achievements of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time.
Henry Ford 1863-1947
Henry Ford insisted on making a car that was affordable for everyone. 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 paid his workers a real living wage and, through mass consumption, made Ford Motor Co. very profitable-and eventually bought out those skeptical 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). While he had many personal flaws, Ford's vision of an affordable car enabled more people to commute to work and be more selective about jobs, eventually leading to more free time, including time for Sunday drives.
* John D. Rockefeller 1839-1937
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 percent 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.
Cyrus McCormick Sr. 1809-1884
The "father of modern agriculture," Cyrus McCormick Sr. invented the horsedrawn mechanical reaper and 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.
Andrew Carnegie 1835-1919
Once described as the richest man in the world, Andrew Carnegie believed the wealthy have a moral obligation to give away their fortunes. When writing about the mass accumulation of riches during the Gilded Age, he mused in The Gospel of Wealth (1889), "No idol is more debasing than the worship of money!"
But it's not his well-documented philanthropic efforts that place him as one of the 50 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 success 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.
Charles Schwab b. 1937
Charles Schwab made investing even more accessible as a pioneer in the discount brokerage business. His company reduced trade commissions and gave more power to consumers to pick and choose their investments. Schwab also introduced e-commerce investing, allowing clients to execute, buy and sell orders online.
J. P. Morgan 1837-1913
Starting with railroads, Morgan reorganized the public utilities and steel industries before going on to refinance the U.S. government's war debt. That same government later investigated the wealthy businessman for antitrust practices. As he testified before a House committee, Morgan told members, "The first thing is character ... before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it." Morgan recognized the importance of strong character and reputation in business. Often mentioned with Gilded Age greats such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Morgan is regarded as the most important banker to ever live.
Amadeo P. Giannini 1870-1949
An Italian immigrant, Amadeo P. Giannini rose from the working class to start a bank catering to the needs of working families, regardless of their economic standing. While personal banking formerly was reserved for business owners and the rich, Giannini's Bank of Italy introduced what would become branch banking, home mortgages, automotive loans and other forms of installment credit. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, with the city in rubble and many banks closed, Giannini extended credit "on a face and a signature" to help rebuilding efforts. His Bank of Italy later became Bank of America.