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Entrepreneurs – Business Lessons From The Men Who Built America

You can never underestimate the power of business empires, the power the entrepreneur can wield. The documentary The Men Who Built America is the most daunting and inspiring thing I have seen on TV. If you haven’t seen this documentary, Google it, beg for it, find it and watch it by all means. It is a historical documentary of the industrialisation of the United States of America and was built around five entrepreneurs who forever changed their industries, their country, and the world.

See Also: 100 Profitable business ideas to start now for aspiring entrepreneurs and investors.

The men, whether by intent or accident, placed the United States on the pedestal that she still enjoys as world economic power, leading in innovation and technological advancements. The documentary is an insider’s view to their persons, their enterprises, their operations, how they handled competitors and regulatory bodies and the inner workings of their minds.

Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don't Have An Idea
Start Your Business in 30 Days Even If You Don’t Have An Idea

My intent here is to simply do a summary of that documentary and I will identify certain traits that are common to the men that history agrees built America through their businesses. These traits should give a road map on how to stir Nigeria to greatness via enterprise.

See Also: Major qualities of an effective project manager.

Building Nigeria

While some men have also contributed in building Nigeria, I think some aspects of their building plans were defective. This defect is foundational and was caused by errors at the onset of construction. I posit that the materials used for building Nigeria were chosen based on religious and ethnic concerns rather than on competence, character and conscious efforts to identify and bring forward the best man or woman for the job.

The military boys fancied themselves better project managers, took over construction and eventually in 1999 permanently (hopefully) gave jurisdiction and authority back to the people. By then, though, great damage had been inflicted on the building. That is the past; progress is made looking and moving forward.

The documentary was built around five entrepreneurs – Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, and Henry Ford.

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Entrepreneur One

Cornelius Vanderbilt was a street boy who got into the shipping business and moved up from owning one shop to building a fleet, moving cargo across the United States, and the rest of the world. He sold all his ships and invested in the railway business when the railway lines appeared as, he thought rightly, the future of cargo movement. His gamble and vision paid off as he profited immensely from his investments.

Entrepreneur Two

John D. Rockefeller, who was reputed to be a man of faith, was the most ruthless of the entrepreneurs. He standardised and had the most effective distribution system for the sale of kerosene, at the time used to power lamps before the advent of electricity. A maverick, his tactics, and business acumen ran several competitors out of business and bankrupted allies who demanded better deals.

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Entrepreneur Three

Andrew Carnegie dominated the steel business. He built this up out of sheer will, intelligence, persistence, and imagination. He fought off competition and battled for the soul of his company both internally and externally and he would later sell his company to JP Morgan for $480 million in 1901, an equivalent of $370 billion as of 2015 dollar value.

Entrepreneur Four

JP Morgan was a banker’s banker. A deal maker with eyes always on the big picture, JP Morgan was so powerful and wealthy that random statements from him were enough to influence the stock exchange.  JP was, at several times, bailing out the United States Treasury with direct cash infusion.

While Edison is credited with inventing electricity, it was JP Morgan who bankrolled his experiments.  His (JP Morgan) genius accounts for the commercialisation of electricity.

Go from idea to starting your business in 30 days
Go from idea to starting your business in 30 days

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Entrepreneur Five

Henry Ford today would have been referred to as a social entrepreneur, an idealist, interested in the greater good and putting workers welfare above profits – something that was unpopular in that era of doing business. He was the first person to standardise production to what is referred today as the assembly line production method. He was the first to manufacture cars and price them at an affordable point within reach of the masses.

So what lessons can one learn from these men that history recognises built America? I will identify and expound my thoughts on a few. Hopefully, we can learn a thing or two that would impact our businesses well enough to make them impact our country.

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Vision for the entrepreneur goes beyond the fancy word on the collage placed in your business’ reception area. How do you see your enterprise in a few years? What is the biggest success scenario imaginable? What is the picture you see when, to borrow Nigerian parlance, you have arrived? Many times, for the entrepreneur this picture is so big and unrealistic that we never want to talk about it so as to avoid being ridiculed. That is your vision. Guard it and replay it in your mind constantly.


These men, in their various businesses, took no prisoners. They dominated their industries and became near-monopolies. I often ask a question when I teach strategy. Do you want to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? It pays to be a big fish in a small pond. As the big fish, you determine how resources are allocated in the pond, you determine who comes into the pond and under what conditions. You can also increase the size of the pond and grow accordingly with it, etc. In business, aim to play in niche sectors where you can become a force to reckon with and eventually dominate.

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Or call it persistence or staying power. If you are not in it for the long term, don’t even bother. The men in question committed lifelong to their enterprises. They survived fierce competitions and near bankruptcies. If you jump from one venture to another every two years, you aren’t ready yet. Now I hear you ask: What if I am an ideas person? I constantly generate business ideas. I advise you to build on one of those ideas and grow it significantly over a three-year period before attempting to extend yourself.


All these entrepreneurs played to their strengths. Stop doing things you loathe, for which you are not gifted. Downplay your weaknesses and outsource them. Adopt and live by the 80/20 rule. 20% of your efforts will produce 80% of your results. Your task is to find and nurture the 20% activity. Ensure to play in the 20% zone as often as you can.


All the entrepreneurs were sticklers for continuous improvement. When JP Morgan financed Thomas Edison’s electricity innovation, it threatened Rockefeller’s kerosene business. He responded by innovating and producing premium motor spirit, or petrol, which opened up a new industry and revenue stream altogether. Innovate or die, an easy way to stay innovative as an entrepreneur is to be a constant learner. Have the curiosity of a seven-year-old and to ask questions. Really, question everything.

While your intent may not necessarily be to build Nigeria directly through politics or the like, build up your business to such levels that will give you a massive influence in the industry where you play in. Employing thousands of people and contributing to the economy of Nigeria financially is social responsibility.

Let’s create visibility for your brand and put your business on the world map. Contact us today to make your brand the preferred choice among our audience of entrepreneurs and business leaders.



1 thought on “Entrepreneurs – Business Lessons From The Men Who Built America”

  1. Hello ,

    I saw your tweets and thought I will check your website. Have to say it looks really nice!
    I’m also interested in this topic + have recently started my journey as young entrepreneur.

    I’m also looking for the ways on how to promote my website. I have tried AdSense and Facebok Ads, however it is getting very expensive. Was thinking about starting using analytics. Do you recommend it?
    Can you recommend something what works best for you?

    I also want to improve SEO of my website. Would appreciate, if you can have a quick look at my website and give me an advice what I should improv
    (Recently I have added a new page about Rockwall Investments and the way how normal people can make money with this company.)

    I have subscribed to your newsletter. 🙂

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Maybe I will add link to your website on my website and you will add link to my website on your website? It will improve SEO of our websites, right? What do you think?

    Jan Zac

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