Thoughts on John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money was enough and said, “Just a little bit more.”

Morgan Housel

I recently stumbled upon a book about John D. Rockefeller.

Years ago I read “Titan,” Ron Chernow’s masterpiece about the famous entrepreneur. But this book is different.

Someone found a bunch of letters from John senior, written to his son, John junior.

In these letters you see the father, a wildly successful and somewhat controversial entrepreneur, teaching his son to navigate the complexities of life and business. You can see how deeply he thought about things.

For instance, this quote:

  • People who are privileged but have no power are a waste, while those who are educated but uninfluenced are a pile of worthless rubbish.

He looked down upon those who wasted their privilege and it sounds like he flat out hated people who accrued education clinically but never moved on it.

Here’s another intense belief found in his writings:

  • The founding belief of all the USA is that all human beings are created equal, but this equality is only present in the context of rights and laws. It has nothing to do with economic and cultural advantages. In most cases, the status of parents will determine the starting point of their child’s life.

Whether we like his viewpoints or not doesn’t discredit their authenticity (or accuracy). People believe all sorts of things, and I’ve learned to not be too hasty in discrediting the views of someone who sees the world differently than I do.

  • When waiting for luck, you must know how to guild luck; to design luck is to design life.

He goes on and says that “for our good luck to continue, we must carefully plan our luck, and planning luck requires a good plan.” You can see the differences between Rockefeller and one of his early rivals, Cornelius Vanderbilt. It seems JDR was interested in continuing his reach through the next generation while Vanderbilt was mostly concerned with the immediate.

As a result, the Vanderbilt wealth was gone in a few generations, while the Rockefeller’s still possess great fortune even today.

  • You need to know that when designing a good design, you must first consider two basic prerequisites. The first condition is you must know your goals, such as what you want to do, or even what kind of person you want to become; the second is knowing what resources you have, such as status, money, relationships and even abilities.

He’s talking about self-awareness here. Knowing what you have and where you’re going. There are so many materials on this that I’m not going to waste time on it.

There is a lot in the collection of writings about work, specifically how John senior felt about his work.

  • If you view work as a pleasure, life is heaven; if you view work as a duty, life is hell.

He says, “Losing work means losing happiness.” It’s safe to say that this man was obsessed; a distinguishing factor that made him somewhat different than say, Andrew Carnegie. Both men loved to work but Carnegie seemed more balanced, taking months off every summer and creating the popular “block & tackle” approach to work/life management we use today.

  • When I first entered the business world, i often heard that a person who wants to climb to the peak needs to make a lot of sacrifices. However, as the years passed, I began to understand that many people who were climbing to the top were not “paying the price.” They work hard because they really like work.

Fascinating and, I believe, true.


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