John D. Rockefeller - The Khuram Dhanani Blog
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Khuram Dhanani

John D. Rockefeller

John Davison Rockefeller was born into a large and poor family in 1839. This is a likely factor in creating his clicking point because Rockefeller grew up in poverty and was a ruthless competitor. 

Starting out as an assistant bookkeeper for a small produce firm, Rockefeller and a business partner raised $4,000 and started their own food marketing business. During the American Civil War, the Union Army requisitioned vast amounts of food, and profits soared. 

Rockefeller decided to capitalize on his belief that the oil industry was expanding. He decided to build a refinery, which proved highly profitable, especially due to Rockefeller’s insistence on keeping production costs to an absolute minimum. 

In 1870, Rockefeller formed a new business called Standard Oil. His mind for efficiency and his work ethic combined with the market’s increasing demand for kerosene propelled the company to success. Rockefeller knew that he had found a perfect market fit, and he was 100% committed. Rockefeller was excellent at execution and clever at protecting his downside risk by eating up his competition. 

He was also brilliant at delegation. Here’s one of Rockefeller’s most famous quotes:

“I would rather earn 1% of 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts.”            John D. Rockefeller

Standard Oil became a dominant force in the industry. As a result, they could also negotiate better rates with the railroads to ship materials and oil. That’s when Rockefeller decided to expand his opportunity by purchasing oil terminals and pipelines and colluding with railroads for preferred transportation fees. Rockefeller tightened his grip on the oil industry by buying millions of acres of forest land for lumber and drilling, not only for his own use but also to prevent competitors from getting it. Standard Oil continued to buy up competitors across the United States, and in just a decade, it had a near-monopoly of the U.S. oil business. 

This was the start of antitrust laws at the state level, and eventually, similar laws were enacted at the federal level. By then, Rockefeller was incredibly wealthy.

After his retirement at the age of 56, Rockefeller donated millions to the University of Chicago, giving over $80 million to the institution. He also used his fortune to create the Rockefeller Foundation to carry out his charitable works, following the example of a fellow tycoon, Andrew Carnegie. with the mission of promoting “the well-being of humanity throughout the world,”  and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, which was later renamed Rockefeller University. Though he was regarded as a cutthroat tycoon, Rockefeller donated more than $530 million to philanthropic efforts and charitable causes. The Rockefeller Foundation is now a billion-dollar organization whose mandate is “to promote the well-being of humanity around the world.”

Foresight and business sense can go a long way. A lot of Rockefeller’s success was due to his investment in an oil refinery at a time when this was a risky proposition. However, when oil became a critical commodity, Rockefeller was already ahead of the curve. There are plenty of opportunities available today. What does your intuition about cryptocurrencies? Alternative fuels? Self-driving vehicles? Virtual reality tourism? Or something else entirely? Based on your perspective and life experiences, you probably have some great ideas.

It’s also worth noting that philanthropy can make a big difference. No one remembers Rockefeller the shark, but we do think of Rockefeller the philanthropist. He was one of the richest men in the world, but he was also one of the most generous with this success. Bill Gates followed in Rockefeller’s footsteps with the Gates Foundation. While Rockefeller appears to have been avaricious, the idea of leaving a legacy was appealing once he had amassed his millions and made donations that benefited millions of people.

Khuram Dhanani
Khuram Dhanani
kd@softstonecapital.com