John D. Rockefeller, Sr: Invaluable business lessons from Ron Chernow’s Biography


In 50 Business Classics, Tom Butler-Bowdon includes a discussion of Ron Chernow’s classic biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

These are among the dozens of business lessons that caught my eye:

o “John Davis Rockefeller was fortunate in the timing of his birth, 1839, which meant that he, along with Andrew Carnegie (1835), jay Gould (1836), and J. P. Morgan (1837), would come kf age just as the post-Civil War industrial boom was about to get under way. It seemed [and proved to be] a time of [almost] limitless opportunity.” (Page 37)

o “Relentlessly inquisitive and hungry for knowledge, his nickname in the oil fields was ‘the Sponge.’ What made Rockefeller different, Chernow argues, was that he did not think simply of his own operation, but developed a picture of the etnire oil industry and its place in the modern economy. This involved planning far ahead and striking strategic partnerships so that he could dominate the industry. ‘The Standard Oil Company will one day refine all the oil and make all the barrels,’ he told a Cleveland businessman.” (38)

o “To give a sense of how vast Standard Oil’s market power was at the time of the judgment [in 1911 by the U.S. Supreme Court to be dismantled], consider that its constituent companies would become each in their own right corporate names with huge market shares: Standard Oil of New Jersey became EXXON, Standard Oil of New York became Mobil, Standard Oil of Indiana Amoco, and Standard Oil of California Chevron. Though ‘Standard Oil’ as a name disappeared,Rockefeller’s fingerprints would remain on millions of gas pumps and oil cans across the United States and the world.” (40)

o “Chernow was probably a bit too harsh on Rockefeller’s business strategies. After all, every business aims to dominate its field, or at least be its leader — it’s just that few are able to do so. Rockefeller achieved his aim of making the oil industry modern and efficient, ramping up quality and saving consumers money, not to mention employing legions of people. Without his rapacity in business, there would be no Rockefeller Foundation today.”   (42)

50 Business Classics: Your shortcut to the most important ideas on innovation, management and strategy was published by Nicholas Brealey (2018).

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockeffeller, Sr. was first published by Random House in 1998; a second, paperbound edition was published in 2004.


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