Three Take-Aways: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Rockefeller equated silence with strength: …’success comes from keeping the ears open and the mouth closed.” (pp. 174)

This was a beast of a book: 676 pages not including Acknowledgments and Notes.  I fought a valiant fight and eventually made it through it.  The book was an interesting take on the industrialist period and Rockefeller’s contribution to it, but not gripping.

Three take-aways from the book:

  1. Legacy

“As architect of the first great industrial trust, he proved the ultimately fragile nature of free markets, forcing the government to specify the rules that would ensure competition and fair play in the future.” (pp. 667)

Rockefeller’s legacy has oscillated a bit depending on the time and viewpoints.  A point made in the book about Rockefeller and other industrialists (a.k.a. robber barons) of that period, is that they operated in a business environment that was radically different than the one we have today.  Many of the laws around corporations and capitalism did not exist, or took a much different form.  And so, defensibly, many of the industrialists felt that they were pioneering and stabilizing forces in their industry rather than anti-competitive.  In hindsight, we look at their actions with a much different lens.   

  1. Timing of Wealth Creation

“Beyond his talents as a businessman, Rockefeller benefited from a large dollop of luck in his life, making more money in retirement than on the job.” (pp. 557)

Compounding.  The eight wonder of the world.  If you read about Buffet, the pattern is similar in terms of wealth creation.  Rockefeller made more money after the Standard Oil breakup than before it.

  1. Personal Finances & Philanthropy

“Rockefeller engaged in strenuous rituals of austerity, and he grimly sought to simplify his life and reduce his wants.” (pp. 504)

“They [his children] were expected to spend a third of their money, save a third, and donate a third to charity.” (pp. 629)

Rockefeller was not ostentatious like some of his contemporaries – at least relatively speaking.  In fact he was almost humorously frugal, which stemmed from a fairly religious (Baptist) belief system.  And he required his kids to follow suit.

Rockefeller Sr. also pioneered a model of philanthropy imitated by many of the wealthy today.  And he was notoriously private and hand-off regarding most of his philanthropic works – including the University of Chicago and some of what are now National Parks – like Grand Teton.

A few other recent book reviews:

  1. Range
  2. Principles
  3. That Wild Country
  4. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
  5. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
  6. Fortune’s Formula