Andrew Carnegie

Just finished a bio of Andrew Carnegie.  Don’t know why but I have been reading about these old titans of industry lately.  It’s a strange case.  He amassed a fortune of what today would be worth $120 billion and then gave it away.  In addition, he wrote a book called the Gospel of Wealth that called on other rich people to give away all their money as well.  His efforts probably led to billions of dollars in private philanthropy.  And yet, he brutally suppressed the union and drove it out of his manufacturing plant.  He went from eight hour to 12 hour work days and he suppressed wages with a heavy hand while making massive profits.  He also colluded with other manufacturers to keep prices high, bought politicians to keep tariffs in place and did side deals with his largest clients (the railroads for one) so that they got rich as well.  And as far as this biographer is concerned did it all without a tinge of guilt or remorse (with the exception of the brutal Homestead affair where people were killed in a union suppression effort).

I tend to put successful entrepreneurs up on a bit of a pedestal.  I think ultimately successful economic development (and ultimately the lifestyle we all want) is based on these guys/gals.  But making a fortune by keeping wages down or colluding to keep prices above a fair market value or bribing government officials to keep some arbitrary advantage and all of the other things that people do in the name of making money is to be deplored. 

Entrepreneurs have obligations beyond just making money. They have an obligation to their employees to their customers and to the community in which they operate. 

I’m going to keep reading about these captains of industry.  Maybe I’ll stumble on one that actually brought this broader understanding to their business empire.  Maybe I’ll skip forward a hundred years or so and read about Richard Branson.  Any other examples?

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3 Responses to Andrew Carnegie

  1. Anonymous says:

    Read the Toyota Way, or GE Jack Welch, Straight from the Gut or Winning. You shouldn’t read the great business titans within today’s context.

  2. Someone sent me some good thoughts on this:

    Re Carnegie: Don’t read about Old Titans within today’s context, the world has evolved.

    On recommendations for today’s titans, you should read the Toyota Way (which is diametrically opposed to this culture of “the” great business leader, but rather focused on the unsexy task of running a great, efficient company. From Good to Great explains why the culture of big egos is wrong and why understated leader focused on the team, succeed in the long term) Also read Jack Welch GE winning or straight from the gut.

    On Economic Stimuli: If I had my way, and this ties to Toyota and GE, I would put a lot of money on Leading change exercise in Public and Private sector, ensure that all NB grads are leading change litterate (one compulsory course for all undergrad) , and fund massive Kaizen training and implementation program for all manufacturers. Tie all public funding to ability to lead change, existing continuous improvement processes and the % of green belts/black belts within a company…it would be a way to distinguish ourselves in NB.

  3. Anonymous says:

    New Scoundrels

    Canadian credit cards charge 18% interest.

    Plus 5% extra over American Exchange,

    Plus Canada has blocked American companies shipping to Canada by exorbitant border charges.

    Prices in Canada nearly double American prices.

    Then add 15% tax

    Plus Canada Shipping charges way too high.

    Plus cheap made in china products sold in Canada.

    What a country! Nigeria not the only one to watch

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