No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.
Scottish American industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, is famous for being one of the richest people in history, at one point surpassing John D Rockefeller as the richest American in the world. He led the expansion of America’s steel industry in the late 19th century, and devoted the last 18 years of his life to philanthropy, during which time he founded many charitable organisations. Carnegie’s career began as a telegrapher. By the 1860s, he had made investments in railroads, trains, and the oil industry, eventually accumulating more wealth as a bond salesman, which funded American enterprise in Europe. After building his steel company, he sold it in 1901 for $480 million, making him the richest American. His large scale philanthropic endeavours in later life had an emphasis on local libraries, education, science research and world peace. From his fortune, he built Carnegie Hall, Peace Palace, and more.
Carnegie came from humble beginnings. Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, he spent his early childhood in a typical weavers cottage with one main room, which the family shared with another weaver’s family. He attended Dunfermline’s free school, donated by Philanthropist Adam Rolland.
Carnegie’s uncle, political leader George Lauder, had a profound influence on him growing up. Lauder introduced him to the writings of Scottish heroes including William Wallace, Rob Roy, Robert the Bruce, and Robert Burns. When Carnegie was 13, his father began to struggle to make a living as a weaver, as the country was in starvation. His mother helped support the family by working for her brother and selling potted meats, soon becoming the primary breadwinner. Still struggling, the family moved to Pennsylvania, USA, to try for a better life.
In Allegheny, a growing industrial area, Carnegie’s first job as a bobbin boy at a cotton mill earned him $1.20 a week. A year later, he worked as a telegraph messenger boy. He proved himself to be a hard worker, and would memorise the locations of local businesses and their leaders. As he continued to pay close attention to his work, he eventually learned to translate telegraph signals by ear, and was promoted to operater.
'People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents."
Education and a passion for reading was encouraged by Colonel James Anderson who opened his personal library to working boys on Saturday nights. Carnegie was greatly appreciative of this, and said that if he was wealthy one day, he would use his money to create opportunities for poor boys to be successful, just like the opportunities he had. At 24, he became superintendent of the Western Division of the railroad company. At this time, railroads were the first big businesses of America. He was trained and mentored by industrialist Thomas A Scott, who taught him about things such as management and cost control. Scott also assisted his introduction to investments, which would soon increase Carnegie’s wealth dramatically.
Throughout his career, Carnegie achieved many great things:
And, true to his word, Carnegie used his great wealth to further education and create opportunities for others to be successful, establishing public libraries across all English speaking countries, as well as funding scores of schools, libraries and charities.
Much wisdom and inspiration can be gleaned from Carnegie’s early life. He allowed himself to be shaped and taught by knowledgeable people who made themselves available. He understood the value of learning, and pursued education at every opportunity, even taking advantage of the menial jobs he started off in.
If you are starting small right now, I encourage you to put your whole heart into what is right in front of you. If you are prepared to work hard, and are eager to learn from the people above you, you will be sowing valuable seeds for the future.