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The Men who built America: a True Tale of Innovation Change is an inevitable fact of life and it also applies in the world of business in countless ways. Staying ahead of the crowd of competitors is part of innovation and the greatest business pioneers of our time were the best at adapting to the environment that surrounded them and their influence. “The Men who Built America” shows many interesting parts of the business world both good and bad. Hostile takeovers and buyouts were byproducts of the tension between competing industries and business tycoons, especially in the midst of the Industrial Revolution of early America.
Many traits are represented in great business leaders but innovating may be the single best thing to be skilled at. Cornelius Vanderbilt was originally one of the first of many American pioneers and he thrived in setting new trends and finding ways to step ahead of competition. Innovation was his biggest ally in overcoming the rivals in his industry. He originally started with a shipping business that he brought up from nothing and soon used big ships to transport numerous kinds of materials to both the east and west coasts of the country. When the railroad industry was first taking off, Vanderbilt saw a path of profit and potential. The shipping business he owned was one of the greatest companies of its time but Vanderbilt had the eye to see potential into a new type of business that was faster and more efficient. It also created larger profit and more time to make that profit. Vanderbilt became the largest railroad owner in the country and made the right choices in maintaining a competitive edge all throughout his life from then until the end of his days. He continuously adapted to change in the industry and became one of the richest and most influential people in America's history. He knew that the time of shipping by boats was generally over with.
Cornelius Vanderbilt was a self made man who kept his competitive streak by being assertive. Rockefeller’s fragmented industry was one of the most successful businesses in history of the United States. He managed to merge two businesses in order to improve the product he was offering. At a young age he displayed his toughness by buying a small ferryboat with a hundred dollar loan. He immediately earned a reputation as a cutthroat businessman. Then at the peak of his power he does the unthinkable by trying to build railroads. He sees the future and decides to sell all his ships and invest in railroads. It becomes the first transcontinental railroad and after the war he becomes the richest man in the world. Not that many leaders have the will to risk everything they own to get what they want. He knew that there were no rules in the business industry. Vanderbilt controls the railroads and when he doesn’t have it his way he decides to shut down the bridge to prove his dominance. His competition begins to fade away and they decide to sell it. He buys everything and takes control by pure force. Vanderbilt is the pioneer of brutal force by proving to the world he can have anything he wants with his money.
Vanderbilt while paving the way for many business ventures of the industrial revolution, he was not the alone. He was one of many extremely successful man of his time and in fact there were many to come about later in his life. John D. Rockefeller was an oilman who struggled with business from the beginning of his career. He got a boost from Vanderbilt when kerosene was developed for the use of light in just about every home around. Kerosene was one of the most shipped products around and it was in very high demand. Vanderbilt saw the potential yet again and reached out to Rockefeller to make a deal on shipping kerosene on the railroad before anyone else could. He locked up the opportunity before anyone else had the chance. This put Rockefeller in a much more prestigious position and his power and influence rose tremendously due to his vision and investment strategy in kerosene refining. He was great at marketing kerosene and took the industry by storm. All the railroads were lobbying for his product to be shipped on their trains because money was low in the economy and at times it was difficult to find contracts for cargo and freight. He had the pivotal leverage and advantage of picking whoever would be transporting his freight and could influence the price as well. Later on, Rockefeller went on to start using gasoline that started the manifestation of the internal combustion engine.
John D. Rockefeller’s oil revolutionized the world by providing safe and cheap way to get light. Before kerosene your average American didn’t have access to light after it got dark. Rockefeller seen his opportunity in oil and wanted to become rich. He came up with something the whole world needed and it became a necessity. Rockefeller also has a ruthless character that proves there are no rules in the business industry. When he sees Vanderbilt’s trains are getting full, he decides to do what’s necessary to make more money. He decides to sign a contract with Tom Scott another uprising leader in the railroad industry. John Rockefeller also merged two businesses in order to improve his product and efficiently distribute it to the world. He had seen his opportunity when Vanderbilt and Scott shut the doors on him. Rockefeller’s solution was to build a pipeline and cut the railroads out for good and this maximize his profit. He decides to take the risk and pays off substantially. This proves to show that to be a successful leader you need to have to be able what others would never think of.
Another man at this time was well on his way to success, and like the previously mentioned business innovators, he also saw his own idea of an emerging industry with much potential. Andrew Carnegie started off as an apprentice to Tom Scott from a young age learning many skills and traits of a great leader while being generally apt to business himself already. He seemed destined for big things and came up with the idea of building a bridge across the Mississippi River in St. Louis called the Eads Bridge. He took this idea to its brink and almost ran out of money in achieving it. He knew he needed to develop his own steel company. In doing this, he was going to be able to start using and selling steel at a very affordable price. From this idea, Carnegie transformed a great idea to a supreme niche by starting and owning the biggest steel corporation ever. Carnegie knew that the material he would need for this huge bridge would have to be made from a very strong material that could withstand much heavier weight and distance than normal bridges during this time. Most railroad bridges around this era were notorious for failing. Eventually the decision to use steel was made and this pushed the steel industry into full affect. Originally, it looked as if Carnegie’s decision to use steel on his bridge would prove to be a mistake as it was a very expensive process at the time. Carnegie used up much of his assets investing in the bridge and had to call upon outside investors to fund the finishing stages of its construction. Once he finally finished the project, its effects on the country were phenomenally great for Carnegie and confidence was bestowed upon steel for building purposes. Carnegie invested everything he had into steel, taking another calculated risk with much potential reward. He made the process of forging steel much quicker and cheaper for everyone using it to build anything.
Carnegie’s biggest obstacle though, came in the form of Henry Frick. Frick was a ruthless businessman during this time period and was quickly sought after by him. He would use Frick to balance out his mild mannered ways to build a strong bond to streamline his production of steel into a fine tuned machine. The men shared a long time of leading the steel business together and for years were happy to work with each other. But over time, Carnegie realized more and more that he might have made an irreversible mistake. Things fell apart between them over the years and things hit rock bottom when the Johnstown Dam broke. Carnegie and Frick had both started the South Fork Fishing and Hunting club. This required a dam on the outskirts of Johnstown and it was built when the club was started. The dam soon showed to be impractical and signs of possible flood were imminent and nothing was done about it. The dam would go on to rupture and a devastating flood ensued. Many people died and almost everyone in the town lost their homes and other personal belongings. The backlash from this incident hit Carnegie’s reputation hard and when he finally got through it, things with Frick escalated to take a turn for the worst. As if the Johnstown disaster wasn’t enough to damage the integrity of Carnegie, the Homestead incident almost ruined him. Carnegie had trusted Frick to cut costs and bolster the wealth of his company. He did so by making working conditions absolutely dreadful. Frick had increased hours and decreased pay and rest. The workers of Homestead went on strike and Frick responded by renting his own police force, which resulted in multiple deaths because the workers wouldn’t move from the entrance of the factory in fear of being replaced. Frick was fired but the damage was done and Carnegie had to rebound once again.
These three men all started a legacy and huge rivalry amongst each other that catapulted the United States economy into the world leader by far. For many years they pretty much ran the country and controlled the movement of industrial technology. In time, a new tycoon would take part in J.P. Morgan. Morgan came from a long line of financial minds including his father, Junius Spencer Morgan. J.P. Morgan was a man who invested in businesses and consolidated rival businesses into joint operating entities with a stake in it for him. He was known as a man that got things done and was always really wealthy. When Morgan finally started branching out on his own ventures, he was always reminded by his father to make safe investments. J.P. always heeded his father’s advice and for many years, continued what he had started, following in his footsteps. Eventually though, great minds meet and this is what happened to Thomas Edison and Morgan. Edison was a great inventor and attracted many investors but none as big as Morgan. He was interested in Edison’s electric light bulbs and seen a new industry flash right before his eyes, literally. Against his father’s wishes, Morgan took a risk and funded Edison all the way through. Although many obstacles were overcome along the way involving bad public relations from critics of electricity, the tandem stuck through it all to secure a place in the electricity market.
When Edison and Morgan lost their bid for the Niagara Falls project to Westinghouse and Tesla, all looked lost. J.P. Morgan did not give up though. He was determined to turn this failure into a success. He plotted a way and came up with the idea. Outwitting Westinghouse, he threatened to file suit. He knew he wouldn’t win but that he could outlast his opponent with money on a case that would cost millions of dollars. After Westinghouse gave in, Morgan went back to what he knew how to do and consolidated the electric industry. This transformed the world forever.
Looking at these four men as examples of great leadership, we can see how it is vital to adapt and overcome the constantly changing environment of business. They use their business intelligence and started many different types of businesses and even whole industries that continue to thrive today. All these men also portrayed characteristics of good businessmen. They all wanted to be rich so they came up with something the whole world needed. Vanderbilt created the first transcontinental railroad in the United Stated while Rockefeller lit the way with his kerosene. Carnegie help build America with his powerful steel and J.P Morgan consulting businesses in need.
There are no rules in the business industry and all four men surely displayed this characteristic. Vanderbilt was ruthless and shuts the railroad down leaving his competition with no option but too sell their business. His suppliers have told Rockefeller that they will no longer do business with him. He decides to outwit his competition by sending his oil through pipelines. J.P. Morgan displays his dominance by buying out his whole competition.
The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward you will get. Vanderbilt is the pioneer of this because he had a shipping business and sold it all to invest in railroad. Rockefeller risked building pipelines in order to cut out his competition. Carnegie and J.P Morgan risked their reputation in order to achieve what they have done.
Sometimes have the right people on your side is all that you need. Carnegie proves this to be true with hiring Henry Frick. Rockefeller was the first monopoly but couldn’t get his kerosene transported without the railroad of Vanderbilt. J.P. Morgan had the help of his father, even though he disobeyed him the risk he took proved to be the characteristic of a good businessman.

References 1. http://www.history.com/shows/men-who-built-america 2. http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2012/10/15/162899197/money-is-the-object-and-the-subject-in-historys-the-men-who-built-america 3. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2167393/plotsummary 4. http://www.valuesandcapitalism.com/dialogue/society/men-who-built-america-review 5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Men_Who_Built_America 6. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/tv-review-men-built-america-article-1.1183962

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