Masters of Enterprise: Giants of American Business from John Jacob Astor and J.P. Morgan to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey
From the early years of fur trading to today’s Silicon Valley empires, America has proved to be an extraordinarily fertile land for the creation of enormous fortunes. Each generation has produced one or two phenomenally successful leaders, often in new industries that caught contemporaries by surprise, and each of these new fortunes reconfirmed the power of fanatically single-minded visionaries. John Jacob Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt were the first American moguls; John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J. P. Morgan were kingpins of the Gilded Age; David Sarnoff, Walt Disney, Ray Kroc, and Sam Walton were masters of mass culture. Today Oprah Winfrey, Andy Grove, and Bill Gates are giants of the Information Age. America has again and again been the land of dizzying mountains of wealth.
Here, in a wittily told and deeply insightful history, is a complete set of portraits of America’s greatest generators of wealth. Only such a collective study allows us to appreciate what makes the great entrepreneurs really tick. As H. W. Brands shows, these men and women are driven, they are focused, they deeply identify with the businesses they create, and they possess the charisma necessary to persuade other talented people to join them. They do it partly for the money, but mostly for the thrill of creation.
The stories told here — including how Nike got its start as a business-school project for Phil Knight; how Robert Woodruff almost refused to take control of Coca-Cola to spite his father; how Thomas Watson saved himself from prison by rescuing Dayton, Ohio, from a flood; how Jay Gould nearly cornered the gold market; how H. L. Hunt went from gambling at cards to gambling with oilleases — make for a narrative that is always lively and revealing and often astonishing. An observer in 1850, studying John Jacob Astor, would not have predicted the rise of Henry Ford and the auto industry. Nor would a student of Ford in 1950 have anticipated the takeoff of direct marketing that made Mary Kay Ash a trusted guide for millions of American women. Full of surprising insights, written with H. W. Brands’s trademark flair, the stories in “Masters of Enterprise” are must reading for all students of American business history.Masters of Enterprise examines the lives of 25 American entrepreneurs, from John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, to find the common ingredients of their success. “First, all had good health and abundant energy,” writes H.W. Brands, a professor of history at Texas A&M University, “enough for half-a-dozen careers each.” The other elements that Brands identifies: all were hungry for success; they were persuasive at getting others on their side; they intensely identified with their work; and each had a burning creative vision. Brands dedicates a chapter to each of the 25, starting chronologically with real estate magnate John Jacob Astor in the late 1700s, and ending with software giant Bill Gates in the late 1990s. He describes the entrepreneurs’ background, vision, and major deals, and draws lessons for today’s business mavens.
Modern-day speculators might find enlightening the story of Jay Gould’s cornering of the gold market in the 1800s, for instance. Brands dramatically describes the maneuvers Gould took to hide his buying and selling–and his underhanded but failed attempts at keeping the U.S. government from flooding the market with gold and driving the price down. And women entrepreneurs of today might find inspiring the lives of cosmetics titan Mary Kay Ash, designer Liz Claiborne, and television and movie star Oprah Winfrey–all overcame obstacles, personal and professional, to become giants in their fields.
Others profiled: industrialist Andrew Carnegie, Ray Kroc of McDonald’s, Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Walt Disney, cable-television pioneer Ted Turner, and Intel’s Andrew Grove. Well written and filled with anecdotes, Masters of Enterprise should be an entertaining read for entrepreneurs and fans of business biography and history. –Dan Ring
Find More Bill Gates Products