In an Address at Princeton University in 1920, Charles M. Schwab revealed the secrets that made him a success, including loyalty, concentration, good humor and the ability to make friends. Whether you work in a small or large business, the qualifications are the same.
Here are some of the important excerpts from Charles Schwab’s speech.
“I know that it is very difficult to convince the great majority of people that men who are in active pursuit of life have any other object in view than the making of money. Well, now, boys, that is a great mistake. The real leaders of industry and the real men in life and the real successes in life are not always the men who have made lots of money or a great fortune.
My idea of the successful life is the man who has successfully accomplished the objects for which he set out, to do something that is worthy of a real American man.
Money is often a matter of chance or good fortune and is not the mark of a successful life. And while I have some money – not much since I paid my taxes, boys – it is not the thing that brings a throb of pleasure or a thrill into my life. And I would not pose as a successful man if that was to be the measure.
But when I look about me and see the multitude of friends that I have after forty years of business association with men, when I see the great lines of smoking stacks and blazing furnaces that have come into being because of my interests and activity in life, and when I see a work that I set out to do successfully accomplished and meeting the approval of my fellow-men, then a real thrill comes into my heart and I feel that I have done something worth while. The money one doesn’t think about as long as you have enough to pay your bills and keep your business going.
Fundamentals of Success
Now, in my long experiences in business life and association with men there are some fundamental things that must not be overlooked.
If I were asked to say the most important things that lead to a successful life I should say that, first of all, was integrity – unimpeachable integrity.
No man can ever do anything of any great value in life and have the confidence and approval of his fellow men or be successful in his undertakings with other businessmen if he doesn’t have the reputation of being a man of honor and integrity; and I don’t mean by that that a man shall be so high in the moral and social state of life that he is incapable of any action that might not be regarded as always right, but I have the highest regard for a man who, when he has done something wrong, manfully admits it and constantly sticks to the truth of integrity, however much it may seem to hurt.
You can make up your mind to do one of two things: You can have a good time in life or you can have a successful life, but you can’t have both. You have got to make up your mind at the start which of the two you are going to have.
There is no royal road to a successful life, as there is no royal road to learning. It has got to be hard knocks, morning, noon and night, and fixity of purpose.
Never has there been a time in the history of the world when so much opportunity offers for the leading of a successful life as today. What would I not give to be one of your age again and have the opportunity of starting life afresh! You think the opportunities of the past will not be the opportunities of the future. In that, boys, you make a mistake.
Must Be Better Than the Average
I don’t say you shall become manufacturers or business men or professional men – I don’t know what you are going to be. But this I do know: That any man who goes into anything in life and does it better than the average will have a successful life.
If he does it worse than the average his life will not be successful. And no business can exist in which success cannot be won on that basis. If it did exist and nobody could make a proper success or get a proper return from it in life, the business would tend to go out until it would reach a basis on which it could be profitable.
Another important thing is loyalty. Now, that is what you boys in universities and colleges learn. You learn loyalty to your Alma Mater. You learn loyalty to your fellow-students. You learn loyalty to the friendships that are going to follow you through life. The one thing that you are distinctively in the university is that you are loyal men. Be loyal.
In the management of my great enterprises I have yet to ever find fault with any man. If a man is of the character that you must find fault with him to get the best out of him he is not a man to be desired in an organization. Show me the man that will do his best under approval and I will show you the man that has within him the elements for successful going ahead.
Now, to come back to loyalty. Be loyal to the people with whom you associate at the start. Remember always that it will but attract attention and credit to yourself to share it with those who help you. Be loyal when you start life, boys, wherever you start.
Make your employer feel truthfully that you are sincere with him; that you are going to promote his interests; that you are going to stand for the things which he represents; that you are proud of being a member of his staff, and there is nothing that will reap you a richer reward. Loyalty above all!
Other Things Than Work
Boys, there are other things in life than the mere work. I believe an appreciation of the finer things in life, the learning to know the beauties of literature and art and music, will help any man in his career. A man to carry on a successful business must have imagination. He must see things as in a vision, a dream of the whole thing. You can cultivate this faculty only by an appreciation of the finer things in life.
No active business life, whether it is manufacturing or something else, can prevent you from enjoying the beauties of life. These finer things will contribute to your success.
Don’t Make Enemies
Be friends with everybody. When you have friends you will know there is somebody who will stand by you. You know the old saying that if you have a single enemy you will find him everywhere. It doesn’t pay to make enemies. Lead the life that will make you kindly and friendly to every one about you, and you will be surprised at what a happy life you live.
Make Managers Partners in Business
Now, in my own establishment you will be interested to know something about how we do things. You boys will all, of course, have to start to work upon a salary. But the quicker you get out of working for a salary the better for all concerned. In our works at Bethlehem and San Francisco and all over the United States I adopted this system:
I pay the managers of our works practically no salary. I make them partners in the business, only I don’t let them share in the efforts of any other men.
For example, if a man is manager of a blast furnace department he makes profit out of the successful conduct of his department, but I don’t allow him to share in the prosperity of some other able man in some other department of the establishment.
I give him a percentage of what he saves or makes in the department immediately under his own control and management. For example, if it takes a dollar a ton to make pig iron, and it takes him a dollar a ton to make pig iron, I say to him:
“Well, you are no better than the average manager over the country. Therefore you are entitled to only the usual wages. But if you can make pig iron at 90 cents a ton you are entitled to share with me in a large part of the profits. And if you make it for 40 or 50 cents a ton you share to a very large degree.”
No Limit on Earnings
Therefore, I don’t care how much a man earns. The more he earns the better I like him. And I pay in what I call bonuses to the various superintendents and managers of the different establishments more money for their successful management than I pay the stockholders of the concern in dividends.
And it will surprise you to know the great sums of money that some of these men make. I would be afraid to tell you for fear of discouraging you in your start in life. But I don’t mind saying that forty, fifty, sixty, a hundred thousand dollars a year for these men is not infrequent.
Now, I do the same with the working people. I say that a good workman is entitled to more pay than a poor workman. And, therefore, wherever it is possible we have our workmen paid for the amount of work they do.
I know that is contrary to the general rules of trade unionism, etc., but it is the proper economic basis that a man shall be paid for the work he does and proportionately to the work that he does. And so I carry this principle through every establishment that I have.
The Bethlehem business is now the second largest business in the United States. It was exceeded only by the Steel Corporation last year. Other than that, it was the largest business in the United States, and I give it no more thought or no more attention and not as much as I have to my coming to be a guest of you boys here this evening.
In writing the organization for our establishment I say the President shall have no duties, and shall keep his mind free to survey and direct the whole affair, so as to have it go in harmony. I am so confident of the organization we have got that I find that they do better when the old man is away.
I have never yet seen a record broken in any department when I was at all attending to business. It has always been broken when I Have been away, when a man has been put upon his own mettle to show what he can do. But I am no boss. I let younger men run these great establishments, notwithstanding the fact that I own the greater part of them.
Merit Preferable to Influence
If you have any influence in the world to get you a start in life, don’t use it. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to start life with influence.
He has got to do twice as well as the fellow that starts upon his own merits, because after all, it depends on the general opinion of all those around you as to how competent and successful you are, and when everybody says that you do well because of the influence back of you, then you have got to do twice as well as otherwise. If you are going into any manufacturing establishment, don’t go there by reason of any influence you may have.
Start upon your own merits, and start in some lowly position, no matter what it is.
Lessons from the War
This great war has taught us many things. The one thing it has taught us above everything else is that the true life is the life of modern democracy and simplicity, that it is not one of show or of extravagance; that we are men because we are men and because we have the true instincts of men, and we are not men because we are rich or because we occupy a high social position or because we have influence.
Now, that’s the thing that boys from universities have got to learn. And they are learning it fast, and this war has taught us more than anything else that it is now the fashion, and it is the most liberal sense the fashion, to be simple and to be democratic; that the real man is the man that will live in that way and derive more genuine pleasure and satisfaction in the doing of it than he imagined before.
You Must Enjoy Your Work
No man can be successful at work if he doesn’t find the work he has to do pleasant. No man can ever do a thing well that he is not interested in. You boys will find in your classes that you do best in the things you like to do.
When you start in life if you find you are wrongly placed do not hesitate to change, but do not change because troubles come up and difficulties arise. You must meet and overcome and conquer them. And in meeting and overcoming and conquering them you will make yourself stronger for the future.
This article was first published in “The American Stationer,” on March 27, 1920 as Charles M. Schwab Tells How to Succeed in Business. You can read the original here.
Image: Petter Rudwall