Rags to Riches


Andrew Carnegie was the richest man in the world when he sold his steel businesses to J.P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901. Born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1835, Carnegie & his family emigrated to the USA when he was just 13. Despite growing up in poverty, having limited education and initially working for very little in a factory, Carnegie established the ‘Carnegie Steel Company’ that revolutionised the steel industry and is still referred to as ‘one of the builders of America.’  From very little he came to dominate the industry, building his success upon the character traits that made him such a great leader.

Name: Andrew Carnegie
Born: November 25, 1835
Died: August 11, 1919
Place of Birth: Dunfermline, Scotland (emigrated to USA aged 13)
Education: little formal education, but Carnegie was a voracious reader.
Family: Wife named Louise Whitfield and one child named Margaret Miller
Roles: factory worker, telegraph messenger, telegraphs operator, business owner and philanthropist
Achievements: The Carnegie Steel Company, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the founder of 2,800 libraries, schools, universities and leisure centres. 

What made Carnegie a great leader?

An important facet of supreme leadership and sustained success is the ability to never let your desire for success to diminish and to maintain your passion for the job. Carnegie persevered to expand and enhance his steel business and dedicated much of his time towards it. It was this inner desire that allowed his company to dominate the American steel industry, ‘people who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.’

Seizing Opportunities
Part of being a great leader is having the ability and the judgement to spot an opportunity, grasp it and rouse those around you to follow suit. Carnegie was a master of this. He made several brilliant investments, such as in rail-road related industries, which enabled the Carnegie Steel Corporation to emerge by end of the 19th century as the largest and most profitable of its kind in the world.

Work Ethic
Carnegie represents how continual hard-work can bring success. Despite having little education and modest beginnings working in a factory , he rose to prominence quickly and eventually went on to form the Carnegie Steel Company and became the individual that controlled the largest iron and steel operations in the United States.  As a leader you can set a fine example to your team and motivate them to follow your lead by working incredibly hard, ‘most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.’

There will be occasions when your leadership will require you to implement new ideas and sometimes step out of your comfort zone. Carnegie was a pioneering leader who was not afraid to try new things in order to ultimately achieve success; for example he built plants around the country, using new technology and methods for a more productive process of steel manufacturing that revolutionised the industry.