Let me indicate two or three conditions essential to success. Do not be afraid that I am going to moralize, or inflict a homily upon you. I speak upon the subject only from the view of a man of the world, desirous of aiding you to become successful business men.

You all know that there is no genuine, praiseworthy success in life if you are not honest, truthful, and fair-dealing. I assume you are and will remain all these, and also that you are determined to live pure, respectable lives, free from pernicious or equivocal associations with one sex or the other. There is no creditable future for you else. Otherwise your learning and your advantages not only go for naught, but serve to accentuate your failure and your disgrace. I hope you will not take it amiss if I warn you against three of the gravest dangers which will beset you in your upward path.

1. Drinking Liquor

The first and most seductive, and the destroyer of most young men, is the drinking of liquor. I am no temperance lecturer in disguise, but a man who knows and tells you what observation has proved to him; and I say to you that you are more likely to fail in your career from acquiring the habit of drinking liquor than from any, or all, the other temptations likely to assail you.

You may yield to almost any other temptation and reform – may brace up, and if not recover lots of ground, at least remain in the race and secure and maintain a respectable position. But from the insane thirst for liquor escape is almost impossible. I have known but few exceptions to this rule. First, then, you must not drink liquor to excess.

Better if you do not touch it at all – much better; but if this be too hard a rule for you then take your stand firmly here: Resolve never to touch it except at meals. A glass at dinner will not hinder your advance in life or lower your tone; but I implore you hold it inconsistent with the dignity and self-respect of gentlemen, with what is due from yourselves to yourselves, being the men you are, and especially the men you are determined to become, to drink a glass of liquor at a bar. You do not pursue your careers in safety unless you stand firmly upon this ground. Adhere to it and you have escaped danger from the deadliest of your foes.

2. Speculation & Gambling

The next greatest danger to a young business man in this community I believe to be that of speculation. There is scarcely an instance of a man who has made a fortune by speculation and kept it. Gamesters die poor, and there is certainly not an instance of a speculator who has lived a life creditable to himself, or advantageous to the community.

The speculator and the business man tread diverging lines. The former depends upon the sudden turn of fortune’s wheel; he is a millionaire today, and bankrupt tomorrow. But the man of business knows that only by years of patient, unremitting attention to affairs can he earn his reward, which is the result, not of chance, but of well-devised means for the attainment of ends. During all these years his is the cheering thought that by no possibility can he benefit himself without carrying prosperity to others.

There is another point involved in speculation. Nothing is more essential to young business men than untarnished credit, credit begotten of confidence in their prudence, principles and stability of character. Well, believe me, nothing kills credit sooner in any Bank Board than the knowledge that either firms or men engage in speculation. It matters not a whit whether gains or losses be the temporary result of these operations. The moment a man is known to speculate, his credit is impaired, and soon thereafter it is gone.

How can a man be credited whose resources may be swept away in one hour by a panic among gamesters? Who can tell how he stands among them? Except that this is certain: he has given due notice that he may stand to lose all, so that those who credit him have themselves to blame. Resolve to be business men, but speculators never.

3. Loaning Money & Endorsements

The third and last danger against which I shall warn you is one which has wrecked many a fair craft which started well and gave promise of a prosperous voyage. It is the perilous habit of endorsing – all the more dangerous, inasmuch as it assails one generally in the garb of friendship.

It appeals to your generous instincts, and you say, “How can I refuse to lend my name only, to assist a friend?” It is because there is so much that is true and commendable in that view that the practice is so dangerous. Let me endeavor to put you upon safe honorable grounds in regard to it.

I would say to you to make it a rule now, never endorse: but this is too much like never taste wine, or never smoke, or any other of the “nevers.” They generally result in exceptions. You will as business men now and then probably become security for friends. Now, here is the line at which regard for the success of friends should cease and regard for your own honor begins. If you owe anything, all your capital and all your effects are a solemn trust in your hand to be held inviolate for the security of those who have trusted you.

Nothing can be done by you with honor which jeopardizes these first claims upon you. When a man in debt endorses for another, it is not his own credit or his own capital he risks, it is that of his own creditors. He violates a trust. Mark you then, never endorse until you have cash means not required for your own debts, and never endorse beyond those means.

Before you endorse at all, consider endorsements as gifts, and ask yourselves whether you wish to make the gift to your friend and whether the money is really yours to give and not a trust for your creditors. You are not safe, gentlemen, unless you stand firmly upon this as the only ground which an honest business man can occupy.

I beseech you avoid liquor, speculation and endorsement. Do not fail in either, for liquor and speculation are the Scylla and Charybdis of the young man’s business sea, and endorsement his rock ahead.

SourceAndrew Carnegie, The Empire of Business (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1902)