What New Advisors can Learn from John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

What New Advisors can Learn from John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

It’s that time of year again – time for goal setting, establishing the right habits and getting our year off to the right start.  It’s also a time to think about your achievement cycle.  Modeling achievement patterns of successful people can accelerate personal development – it’s a process that starts as a child, but should be used more heavily as adults.  For this edition of FastTrack for Growth, we’ll be looking at one of America’s most iconic business success stories, John D. Rockefeller Sr.

In a nutshell, John D. Rockefeller Sr. was the founder of Standard Oil Company, an industry visionary, and spent the last 40 years of his life in philanthropic pursuits that pioneered the development of medical research.

It all started when he was sixteen, when he dropped out of school and paid $40 to take a three-month course in double-entry bookkeeping, penmanship, and exchange. At sixteen, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. entered into his first official job search.

“Despite incessant disappointment, he doggedly pursued a position.  Each morning, he left his boarding house at eight o’clock, clothed in a dark suit with a high collar and black tie, to make his rounds of appointed firms.  This grimly determined trek went on each day – six days a week for six consecutive weeks, until late in the afternoon.

Because he approached his job hunt devoid of any doubt or self-pity, he could stare down all discouragement. ‘I was working every day at my business – the business of looking for work.  I put in my fulltime at this every day.’”

- Titan by Ron Chernow -- 1998, Random House

He finally landed his first job as an assistant bookkeeper, working for a small produce firm called Hewitt & Tuttle.  In 1859 at the age of twenty, he raised $4,000 and with a partner, established his own produce commission business.  Profitable from the start, he plowed money back into his business and later built an oil refinery in 1863.  In 1866, he went into partnership with his brother William Rockefeller who had built another refinery in Cleveland.   Rockefeller consistently reinvested into his refinery business, which soon became the largest in the world.  This firm was the predecessor to Standard Oil.


The following are some notable quotes:

Rockefeller the salesman: “‘I would go into an office and present my card and say to the man that I did not wish to intrude upon him, but that I had a proposition that I myself believed in and believed it would be to his advantage.’ Rockefeller handled people adroitly and wasn’t the old curmudgeon of later myth.  However, he was persistent, which pleased or displeased people according to taste.”

Rockefeller on personnel: “’the ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar and coffee he once said, ‘and I pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.’”

Rockefeller on philanthropy:  Raised as an active Baptist, Rockefeller always tithed 10% of his earnings to his church.  This led to founding Spelman College, funding the University of Chicago, founding the General Education Board to promote education throughout the country, which ultimately led to the formation of the Rockefeller Foundation.


Key Success Principles:

  • Discipline – Every advisor can take a lesson from Rockefeller’s description of “making a job of finding a job.”  Leaving the house at 8am and not returning until late, day after day, month after month, until finally getting hired as an assistant bookkeeper.

    How can you improve your discipline in 2014?
  • Ambition – His hard work and discipline enabled him to get his first job, save his money, and start his own business by the age of 20.  His drive was so strong that he immediately reinvested the profits into the business, which was a trend that continued throughout his career.  Rockefeller’s ability to recognize and seize opportunities that surfaced was driven by his ambition.  This resulted in Standard Oil being viewed as a monopoly that was ultimately broken-up by the U.S. government.   

    How would you rate your ambition for 2014?

  • Life-Long Learner – In 1859 there were not many teenagers investing $40 in their own education.  Today, there are not many teenagers investing in their education.  Rockefeller was a self-taught businessman who embraced education to such an extent that it became the focal point of his philanthropy.

    What are going to commit to learning in 2012?
  • Master Salesman – Whether selling potatoes as a child, himself for a job, or selling the wares of his produce commission business, selling investors for his refinery business, Rockefeller was a master salesman.  When he had to go door to door, he went door to door, when it came to being respectful and developing personal rapport, he excelled, when it came to persistence, he was tireless.  

    What are you going to do to improve your sales skills?

Rockefeller’s ability to see an opportunity, apply the necessary hard work, and his well-honed sales skills created a cycle of buying competing firms, improving efficiency of operations, getting discounts on shipping, raising investment money, and buying out his competition.  By the end of the 1870s, Standard Oil Company was refining over 90% of the oil in the United States and John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was a wealthy man. 

Your opportunities are at your fingertips.  There is more affluent dissatisfaction and potential money in motion than ever before.  What would John D. Rockefeller, Sr. do if he were in your shoes?  Make that your 2014 game plan and you’ll never look back.