4 Business Lessons You Can Learn From John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller is perhaps one businessman who, even after almost a hundred years of his death, is reviled and admired in equal measure. There are those who call him a greedy monopolist, and others declare him to the Man Who Built America. We tend to be in the latter group. We are great admirers of Rockefeller and think the world of him.

There are so many lessons you can learn from Rockefeller’s life, because his was a classic rags to riches story. How John D. Rockefeller rose from being just a poor but proud kid without any family support whatsoever, to being the richest man in the world is a stuff of legend. We encourage you to read author Ron Chernow’s excellent biography of John D. Rockefeller, “Titan – The Life of John D. Rockefeller Snr.”

So, without further ado, here are some of the business lessons you can learn from Rockefeller’s life.

Lesson #1. Don’t Get Carried Away By Your Own Hype

Rockefeller said, when asked about how unaffected he was by his wealth, power and fame, “Because you have got a start, you think you are quite a merchant; look out, or you will lose your head—go steady. Are you going to let this money puff you up? Keep your eyes open. Don’t lose your balance.

He added, “These intimate conversations with myself, I’m sure, had a great influence on my life. I was afraid I could not stand my prosperity, and tried to teach myself not to get puffed with any foolish notions.”

Many promising businessmen get carried away by their initial success, and believe they can do no wrong. Confidence is good, but over confidence or giving in to your ego is not. Rockefeller was a very humble man in spite of his tremendous success. He never took the hype around him seriously, and hardly ever spoke to the media.

Lesson #2. Be Clear About Your Goals

Rockefeller always set goals for himself and set upon achieving them. The reason he set goals was to drive himself further forward, to achieve what was initially thought to be impossible. His goals were clear, concise and well thought out.

John D. Rockefeller had just a single petrochemical refinery in Cleveland to begin with. There were hundreds of other businessmen in America in those days with oil refineries of their own. Oil was a highly fragmented business.

Rockefeller knew that the only way to succeed in the business was to monopolize oil refining, have all the refineries in the country centrally controlled by a single authority – himself. Yes, it was an impossible task, but he set himself to it and within a decade or so was completely successful.

Lesson #3. Take Calculated Risks in Business

Rockefeller took great risks in his career. But all of his risks were calculated to succeed. He never took a chance when he wasn’t at least 90% confident of achieving success.

For instance, right at the very start of his business career, he knew he had to buy out his business partners, the Clark brothers and strike out on his own. But he bid his time, gathered the financial resources required, and at the age of 26, bought out the Clark brothers when they least expected, for an extraordinary (at that time) $72,000.

This boldness was characteristic of Rockefeller throughout his career. He took his chances, but only struck when the iron was hot, when he was completely prepared and was certain of his success.

Lesson #4. Work Smart, Don’t Be Afraid to Take Rest

Many of us make it a virtue to work too hard and neglect our work-life balance in the bargain. John D. Rockefeller never worked just for the sake of working or to keep up with an image of a hard worker. He always made it a point to take Sundays off for time with the family and for the church. He never did any business on Sundays.

As his biographer Chernow explains, “He worked at a more leisurely pace than many other executives, napping daily after lunch and often dozing in a lounge chair after dinner.” Rockefeller believed in short bursts of hard work and keeping his concentration high, rather than losing his focus by working long hours.

John D. Rockefeller said once, when asked about his work habits, “Do not many of us who fail to achieve big things…fail because we lack concentration—the art of concentrating the mind on the thing to be done at the proper time and to the exclusion of everything else? It is not good to keep all the forces at tension all the time.”

Conclusion about John D. Rockefeller

This blog post is a part of our series on Learning Business Lessons from the Greatest Businessmen in history. The business lessons you learn here will certainly help you stay ahead of the curve, establish a profitable business and achieve lasting success in both life and career. It’s equally important to find company partner who shares your vision. We encourage you to stick around here on this website, have a look at some of our blog posts, perhaps you’ll find some of the golden nuggets of information that interest you and arouse your curiosity. Ciao!

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