If you own a business and haven’t watched the History Channel series, “The Men Who Built America,” you owe it to yourself. I watched all the episodes in a few sittings over the Christmas holidays. I happened upon a listing for the show at the bottom of my wife’s History Channel iPad App. I looked into it, and found I could buy the DVD at Barnes and Noble. I thought to myself: I love history, I own a business, and I’d love to know more about these titans of industry. One never knows with revisionist history, but I’m assuming the show is pretty accurate.
Besides the nostalgia of the pens they wrote with, the way they stamped stock certificates, and the way they formally corresponded, the show really told a great story of how our country and its industries blossomed after the civil war. The show takes us through the lives of Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. As we make our way through the life of each man, we simultaneously see how industries developed from nothing, and how America experienced periods of growth and expansion that fueled the world. The industries are shipping and railroads with Vanderbilt; oil, gas, and kerosene with Rockefeller; steel with Carnegie; banking and electric with Morgan; and of course, the automobile with Ford.
We get an inside peek at what the men faced. They were faced with unbelief, debt, war, fierce competition, laissez-faire government, and government prosecution. What drove them— some were driven by stature, some by divine providence, some by philanthropy, but all by each other and a singleness of purpose. Where they came from—the only one who came from wealth was Morgan. We see the bad decisions they made and the failures. We also see the great successes. The show also has contributions throughout from current business tycoons like Trump, Cuban, Deutsch, Perlman, and Welch.
On this stroll through history, we also see appearances from Charles Schwab, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Scott, and George Westinghouse. This documentary was well filmed, and really opened my eyes to the events that transpired to form some of America’s largest industries and companies. From Standard Oil, to General Electric, to US Steel, we get to see how these companies made us what we are today. Like them or not, we owe much our wealth today to these industries. Did they do everything right? Absolutely not, but that’s not the point of this post.
So what did I learn about business? Well here are 10 lessons I gleaned.
- Change and setbacks are really truly opportunities in disguise.
- Singleness of purpose and competition fueled their growth as much or more than money ever did.
- They never quit. I know, I know, I’ve read “The Dip” but these guys were obviously not in a cul de sac.
- Innovation requires a technician.
- They picked partners where they had weaknesses.
- They saw opportunity around the corner. The old Wayne G. quote. They skated where the puck was going.
- They built industries from the ground up. Guess that’s why I love HubSpot.
- They made decisions quickly. They didn’t live in regret.
- They were straight forward negotiators. They didn’t haggle much.
- They had big huge goals.
If you watch the series or have already seen it, then let us know what you think in the comments below.