Ben Franklin-Patriot, Scientist, and Business Owner

By Corwin, Judy | Baylor Business Review, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Ben Franklin-Patriot, Scientist, and Business Owner


Corwin, Judy, Baylor Business Review


"Ahead of his time, Franklin believed in many of our currently popular notions: self-management, reengineering, principle-centered leadership, and win-win negotiating."

-Dr. Blaine McCormick

Dr. Blame McCormick's idea of education is to expose people to a broad range of subject matter similar to that of Baylor's interdisciplinary core. He incorporates a lot of that ideology in his management classes. Sometimes he will assign novels purely to supplement the text and shed a different light on an academic subject.

McCormick says he started using The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin while teaching at another university. "Although remembered primarily as a founding father and statesman, writer and sage, scientist and inventor, in this classic piece of American literature Franklin writes of his early days as a businessperson (up to age 50). Franklin's autobiography details how he served apprenticeships and started businesses that would ultimately build his career, his reputation, and the basic concept of `franchising' in America."

Book for a Wide Readership

Over the past year, McCormick has transformed classroom material into a commercial business paperback called Ben Franklin's 12 Rules of Management. The book's publisher, Entrepreneur Press, feels that the book will draw a wide range of readers, including first-time managers and supervisors, mid-level managers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and Fortune 500 executives -as well as college students in management courses.

Says McCormick, "I wrote the book with small business owners in mind since that's what Franklin was. He lived in Colonial America where there were no conglomerates. The biggest organizations in his day were the Crown (in England), the Church, and the military. The big economic organizations that we have today, like Microsoft, IBM, Ford, Bank of America, Merrill-Lynch, Prudential, etc. did not emerge until almost a hundred years after Franklin's death. All of his enterprises centered around small businesses and management of small groups of 10-12 people.

"Alternatively, Franklin's business expertise can also be relevant to wider audiences because his lessons are so generalizable. In the book and in my classes I try to illustrate in new and interesting ways that a lot of what's taught in today's introductory management textbooks, Franklin was doing a long, long time before we tried to make the idea popular again! Ahead of his time, Franklin believed in many of our currently popular notions: self management, reengineering, principle-centered leadership, and win-win negotiating."

Lessons to Learn

McCormick believes that "Franklin is one of the best American brands going. Abroad, he's revered as one of the bestknown Americans, along with John Wayne, of course. The problem with Ben Franklin is that few people know he was a businessman. My hope for Ben Franklin's 12 Rules of Management is that it will help recover that part of his heritage."

McCormick feels that history textbooks often leave out the business paths of important people (especially if the path is tainted in anyway), choosing instead to emphasize other aspects of the person. "Take Andrew Carnegie for example," says McCormick, "he was a top notch businessman but is remembered primarily as a philanthropist, and while Thomas Edison incorporated over 100 businesses in his day, he is remembered as an inventor. The trouble I have with the genre of books that draw management lessons from historical figures is that too often it draws them from politicians and military figures. I think the world of Abe Lincoln but he didn't run a business; he was a politician and a lawyer, and that's a very different thing from Franklin's ongoing business concerns. Since Ben Franklin's 12 Rules of Management is about a manager and business owner, my book should appeal to managers and business owners."

Glimpses of Franklin's Management Skills

Franklin started his career as an apprentice (basically an indentured servant) where the person he worked for beat him until he ran away! …

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