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Succeeding with what you have | Charles Schwab


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Published in: 1917

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Charles Schwab was an American steel magnate who worked his way up from the floor to top of the country’s leading steel company. The companies he ran often had higher profitability and higher wage levels than their competitors. During his heyday, he had a net worth of $500m-$800m in today’s money, and at the beginning of the 20th century he built the Riverside mansion with 75 rooms on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for $6m ($170m in today’s money value). After an extravagant life combined with the stock market crash of the 1930s, Schwab died poor in 1939, 77 years old.  

LEARNED HIS TRADE AT CARNEGIE. Schwab was born in 1862 into a working class family in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania. In the early 1880s, he began his working life at Andrew Carnegie’s steelworks. By 1897, he had reached the top and at the age of 35 was CEO of the Carnegie Steel Company. In 1901, Carnegie Steel was sold to what later became the U.S. Steel Corporation and Schwab became the Group’s CEO. He then left U.S. Steel in 1903 to run the Bethlehem Steel and Shipbuilding Company, which under his leadership became the world’s largest independent steel producer.

DO MORE THAN WHAT IS EXPECTED. The safest way for young people to qualify for the next level of the career ladder is to work harder than anyone else at their current job. To devote all their time and all energy to work. Only when the intended position is secured can you enjoy the pleasures – you lose nothing by waiting a few years and gain much else in the form of experience and capital.

“He also had a natural willingness to do more than he was paid for. This quality was so pronounced in him that he actually went out of his way to get into the way of work. He not only went the extra mile, but he added two or three extra miles, and went with a smile upon his face and the right attitude in his heart. He also went in a hurry and came back for more when he had finished any task assigned to him.” – Andrew Carnegie on Charles Schwab

SET YOUR OWN PRICE. There is no way to hold back someone who always does more than expected. Whoever does it decides his own price and will be willing to receive it. If an employer is short-term enough to hold back recognition, through adequate compensation, a wiser employer will soon discover the talent and offer a better job.

”The man who fails to give fair service during the hours for which he is paid is dishonest. The man who is not willing to give more than this is foolish.“

THE SMALL THINGS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. The one who gets attention from the top of the organization is the one who constantly thinks and excels in the small everyday chores. Anyone who tries to impress their employer by doing the spectacular will fail. Being careful and methodical in all things, no matter how small or insignificant they seem, makes a big difference over time.

“If a young man entering industry were to ask me for advice, I would say: Don’t be afraid of imperiling your health by giving a few extra hours to the company that pays your salary! Don’t be reluctant about putting on overalls! Bare hands grip success better than kid gloves. Be thorough in all things, no matter how small or distasteful! The man who counts his hours and kicks about his salary is self-elected failure.“

”STARS” ARE OVERRATED. Schwab thought that “super geniuses” in working life were so unusual that they basically did not exist. His experience was that when “stars” left, they were usually replaced by “ordinary” successors who, through application and self-discipline, learned to use the full capacity of their ordinary brains. He did not choose leaders because they were geniuses, he chose those who day in and day out did the little extra and actively thought about how they could increase their productivity.

BEING A LEADER. A leader who blames his employees for trivial mistakes will undermine their job satisfaction and lower their willingness to try new things. When Schwab noticed mistakes among his employees, he said nothing and when he was pleased with their efforts, he praised them. They felt his silence but it was not insulting. It made them think and work harder.

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