Every song has a story to tell and some just strike a resonating chord. Take, for example, Simon and Garfunkel’s classic folk-rock ballad The Boxer. One of their many legendary compositions, the song summons an instant connect to the life of an immigrant dealing with abject poverty but fighting on. Summoning the lyrics of this ever-classic song, we draw parallels with the life of Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
A maverick businessman, author, and philanthropist, Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland to a family of weavers. Just like the boy in the song, Andrew Carnegie knew poverty from his early childhood. With industrialisation spreading its roots across Europe, and Scotland in the grip of an economic crisis, Carnegie’s family migrated to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in the United States in 1848 for better prospects.
With luck not doing the Carnegie household any favours, a young Andrew started working, at the age of 13, in a cotton mill for workman’s wages (around $1.20 per week), and a year later, as a messenger boy for a telegraph operator.
Always looking for business opportunities to bank on, Carnegie's foray into entrepreneurship began when he invested in, and later bought the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company. The investment paid great dividends and thus began Carnegie’s empire-building process, beginning with investments in oil, railroad, and blast furnaces.
But it was during a trip to Britain that he realised that the future was in iron and steel, and established the iconic infrastructure firm Keystone Bridge Company in 1865. From the mid-1870s to the beginning of the 20th century, Carnegie built his steel empire, from setting up his first steel plant in Pennsylvania in 1875, to buying his rival Homestead Steel Works by 1883, to later forming Carnegie Steel Company in 1892. Carnegie introduced a lot of innovations - such as introducing the Bessemer steelmaking process - to curb the cost of making steel, and cost- and production - accounting procedures which not only cut cost but also increased efficiency. All of these and other advancements made him a pioneer in the steel business.
Someone with immense foresight, Carnegie had written himself a letter in 1868, pledging to retire by the age of 35 and devote his time to philanthropic causes. Though he retired at the age of 66, after selling his company to JP Morgan for a record-breaking $480 million, he did devote his time and efforts to philanthropy. Someone who was devoid of a formal education, Carnegie understood the importance education played in a person's development. Hence, he started contributing and establishing educational trusts in the USA and Britain.
A tall order of accomplishment, but this still barely scratches the span of his absolute rags-to-riches journey. Here are some of Andrew Carnegie’s quotes which can perhaps shed more light on his journey and what he had to say about business, philanthropy, and life in general, on this day that marks his 182nd birthday.
Dogged pursuit of success
Even as a telegraph messenger, Carnegie used all means and opportunities at his disposal to grow and develop his skills. Whatever business he ventured into, be it steel, bridge-making, or railroads, he equipped himself with industry knowledge and understood the landscape so he could be the one his competitions had to rival, not the other way round.
“Do not look for approval except for the consciousness of doing your best.”
“Success can be attained in any branch of human labour. There is always room at the top in every pursuit. Concentrate all your thought and energy upon the performance of your duties.”
“The men who have succeeded are men who have chosen one line and stuck to it.”
“Do your duty and a little more and the future will take care of itself.”
Giving back, as much as you receive
Considered to be one of the greatest philanthropists, he donated $350 million to charity in his lifetime. As a young chap, Carnegie benefitted from the access granted to the personal library of Colonel James Anderson, something which he was eternally grateful for. He even said, “If ever wealth came to me, [see to it] that other poor boys might receive opportunities similar to those for which we were indebted to the noble man.”
In an article titled Wealth – later renamed as The Gospel of Wealth – he stated that industrialists should use their accumulated wealth for benevolent causes.
“I shall argue that strong men, conversely, know when to compromise and that all principles can be compromised to serve a greater principle.”
“No man can become rich without himself enriching others.”
“I would as soon leave my son a curse as the almighty dollar.”
“Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.”
Never giving-up attitude
Carnegie, a self-made man, believed in the undying power of the human spirit, which can bend but not break. He used it as the drive to achieve whatever he set out for, never giving in and finding ways to get the task accomplished.
“The ‘morality of compromise’ sounds contradictory. Compromise is usually a sign of weakness, or an admission of defeat. Strong men don’t compromise, it is said, and principles should never be compromised.”
“The average person puts only 25 percent of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50 percent of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100 percent.”
“The man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.”
“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”
A great orator and author, Andrew Carnegie’s quotes are both insightful and inspirational. More important is his journey which started from nothing. A self-made man and a business leader, Andrew Carnegie is an ideal role model for all of us who want to chase our dreams but sometimes doubt ourselves.
Did we miss out on any more iconic Andrew Carnegie quotes? Mention them in the comments below!