Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie... railroads, oil and steel. These famous American moguls built their industries and built the definition of the American dream.
In terms of entrepreneurial opportunity, the industrial age was a unique time in our history. Our country’s infrastructure was yet to be built, and we had an expansive amount of land to develop. Countrywide transformation presented the need for the railroad, oil and steel industries to build our infrastructure and modernize the country.
A 2012 History Channel documentary series, appropriately named “The Men Who Built America,” detailed these success stories with a focus on the life story and character of each of those men. Not only were these men lucky to stumble upon a budding industry ripe for growth, but each of them had major personal characteristics in common. Not all of them were flattering – these men were ruthless – but it was striking how these attributes separated them from their competition and propelled them to greatness:
Fear. In business, as in life, we all get afraid, but what do we do about it? Successful entrepreneurs learn how to push through fear and embrace their failures. When the fear of failure is looming at the door, these men did not look for an escape route. They pushed on.
Risk. No one ever made it big playing it safe. These men each took huge risks. In each of their cases a simple equation applied – the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.
Competition. These guys were driven to be the best, and how can you be the best, if you are not better than everyone else? Each faced fierce competition and many had an “arch nemesis,” a rivalry suitable for comic book hero stories. There is no doubt the need to beat out the competition forced them to push their business further, faster.
Perseverance. It is difficult to push through our fears of failure, and lay everything on the line for success. It is even harder to continue to push when seemingly insurmountable obstacles block our path. The perseverance of our founding fathers of industry would lead them only to one of two ends: greatness or destitution. They simply would not stop.
Definition of Success. For these men, the definition of "success" was nothing less than becoming the biggest, best, or greatest.
The industrial age is long over, and now we find ourselves in the middle of the information age. A hundred years from now, who will history cite as the industry building moguls who took advantage of a new world of opportunities? Gates and Jobs come to mind… but what if they are the railroad barons? What will be our oil and steel opportunities? Who is ready to discover these opportunities and become architects in our nation’s - and the world’s - next phase of construction? Unknown opportunities undoubtedly exist.
Our potential modern world moguls will not only need to discover hidden opportunities but will face the same type of fears, obstacles and failures that Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie faced. Even if your goal, as a small business owner, is not complete world domination, lessons from the “Men Who Built America” demonstrate you are your greatest factor on the path for greatness. Success is your own definition.