Lessons Learned from John D. Rockefeller on Life, Entrepreneurship, and Woodworking

John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller

Want to learn some great tips from the richest man in the world?  Being rich is not the be all and end all, but Rockefeller did build an amazing business empire.  I’m wrapping up a terrific biography about John D. Rockefeller which is an absolute beast of a book by Ron Chernow called Titan, The Life of John D. Rockeffeler, Sr. It’s so long, it runs on 30 audio CDs, but is well worth the listen (or read).  Rockefeller has many lessons for woodworkers and entrepreneurs as we’ll share below.

Power of Positive Thinking

One of the most famous stories about Rockefeller centers around his job search when he was a young man. When Rockefeller was 15 years old he spent 6 weeks looking for his first job as an assistant bookkeeper.  He put on his suit every morning and walked the streets of Cleveland from one firm to another starting at 0800 every day until late afternoon.  Once he exhausted his list of prospective firms he then started over again.  Finally, after 6 weeks a commodities firm hired him.  Rockefeller celebrated September 26th every year as “Job Day” because it was so important to him.  He celebrated Job Day even more than his birthday.  Rockefeller’s attitude was that he would not be denied.  He was going to get up every day and get that job, no matter what.

Another positive thinker is a woodworker named Ben Riddering.  Watch this video to see Riddering’s positive attitude about woodworking and his life:

There’s a man who knew what kind of life he wanted and built it.  If you want even more of a Festool fix, check out our blog post here on tools.

Work ethic

When Rockefeller was a young man, he attended a Baptist mission church in Cleveland.  He didn’t just attend, he did every odd job around the church such as sweeping the floors, doing maintenance, and teaching Sunday school.  He was well known in that church for always being there and always doing whatever was needed.  That work ethic carried over into his business career.  He was tireless in building first his commodities business, then oil refining business, then adding railroads to his portfolio, then pipelines, etc.  He continued to work hard to a very old age for that time (late 1800s, early 1900s)

Sam Maloof Rocker 1994
Sam Maloof Rocker 1994

Another great example of work ethic is a famous woodworker named Sam Maloof.  The New York Times said he was “a central figure in the postwar American crafts movement”.  In addition, Maloof won a MacArthur “Genius” grant for his excellent in craftsmanship.  One of the things that makes Maloof stand out is his work ethic.  He served in the Army during World War II, then set up his first shop shortly thereafter in California.  He continued to turn out works of incredible beauty almost to his death in 2009, over 50 years of woodworking!  What a great example for us all.

For more on work ethic, check out our blog post on entrepreneurship and grit.

Think outside the box

Rockefeller started out in the commodities business buying and selling goods in the Midwest and arranging shipments over the roads, railroads, and Great Lakes.  When oil was discovered in Western Pennsylvania, people didn’t quite know what to make of it or how valuable it would be. Rockefeller took a gamble and bought a refinery nearby, when many of his contemporaries stayed in the commodities business.  Rockefeller thought outside the box and started buying up more and more refinery capacity even though there was not a huge market for oil (yet) or oil-based products.

Going back to the Maloof example, look at that picture of the rocking chair above.  For its time, it was revolutionary.  The unusual curves set it apart from the furniture of its day.  In addition, creating a piece of furniture like that that is manufacturable in quantity can be very difficult, but Maloof was able to design it such that it was a profitable enterprise.  That is out of the box thinking.

Getting back to John D. and his accomplishment, a little positive thinking, work ethic, and thinking outside the box can take us a long way to achieving our goals.

 

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