Summarizing the Exemplars

For the past eight posts, I have focused attention on six men whom I have called exemplars. I offered summary biographies of J.C. Penney, John Wanamaker, Webb C. Ball, George Washington Carver, James J. Hill, and W. Clement Stone. In each brief biographical sketch, I emphasized certain personal characteristics that enabled them to achieve great things. Each of those people excelled in a different field or calling, from retail sales to railroad building and improvement to scientific experimentation to insurance sales and motivational speaking and writing. Yet, they all shared certain qualities that made their respective achievements possible.

 

 

 

Each of these men overcame seemingly insurmountable difficulties and adversities, things that would have prevented lesser men. Sometimes it was the loss or absence of parents at a young age. In other instances, it was poverty or lack of a formal education. Many of these men faced nay-sayers, skeptics, people who believed they could not succeed, people who sought government favors that would give them an advantage over their competitors.

Each of these men, however, also had a dream, or a vision, and a determination to do what was required to make their dreams reality. But they each determined that in the pursuit of his dream he would not violate his fellowman. Rather, he would serve his fellows, achieving his goals by helping others achieve what they needed or wanted. He would treat others as he wanted others to treat him.

Each of these men exhibited a strong work ethic. He was not afraid to sweat, to get his hands dirty, to work hard and put in long hours to further his plan to achieve his dream. He did not expect easy or quick success but was patient and persistent in pursuing his goals.

Each of these men also recognized that he needed the help of others–employees and partners–to bring his dream to fruition; therefore, he treated his associates well and sought to help them improve themselves. Whether those associates were retail sales clerks, line crewmen, newsboys, insurance agents, or students, each of these men sought to make others’ success and growth one of his major objectives, knowing that if that happened he, too, would succeed.

But perhaps most importantly, each of these men was a man of faith in God, some to a greater degree than others, but men of faith nonetheless. Each man realized that true wealth and success are not to be found in this life but in that which is to come. Although many of these men did achieve great wealth, they knew that there was more to life than material things. And they became philanthropists, giving to great causes that helped others. One–Carver–never gained wealth. Yet, he was truly a wealthy man and gave what he had–himself, his time, his knowledge.

Just as Jesus Christ taught His disciples when they argued about which of them would be considered the greatest in His kingdom, each of these exemplars knew that his ultimate success depended on his being a servant to others, not a lord over them, even though he was the boss. Christ said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). As Matthew recorded the incident, Christ said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:11-12).

These characteristics are what made these men great exemplars. They are the qualities that made America great as a nation. They are the qualities that must be predominant in American society if America is to remain great. And they are the qualities that will always produce greatness of personal character.

An exemplar is someone whose life is worthy of being followed and imitated. Each of the men we surveyed over the past several weeks exhibited qualities worth developing and practicing: honesty, integrity, hard work, vision, faith, perseverance, determination, etc. May each of our lives reflect those same qualities. And may we become exemplars in our own right–whatever be our calling or field of endeavor–for someone else.

But wait! There’s more!

Jesus Christ was more than a mere exemplar or great teacher whom we should strive to emulate. He is God, the Savior who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And He offers Himself as such to every individual. And each individual must make a decision to accept or reject Him as Savior and Lord. No matter how many fine qualities of character one possesses, no matter how hard he works or how lofty his ideals and goals, if he has not faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, he is not worthy of being followed. To follow such an one is to be deceived and disappointed in the most important part of life–the soul. Christ stated it so clearly and succinctly: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26)

The great question that everyone throughout history has had to answer–and the question that each of us today must answer–is the ages-old question, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Without Government Funds, No Strings!

“Build it, and they will come.”

This statement often is cited as mere wishful thinking. All business people, especially those intent on growing their businesses, know that a market must exist and want what is about to be offered. So they would say that James was getting his cart before his horse.

But James wasn’t your typical businessman. While other businessmen were coveting and clamoring for help from the government to start or expand their businesses, James was relying on common-sense business principles: self-reliance, saving, hard work, persistence, and visionary thinking. When hard economic times came, the other businesses went bankrupt, but James’s thrived because he founded it on those principles.

Journalists and historians hail the building of the first transcontinental railroad, praising the work of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads and their linkup at Promontory Point. Somewhat less enthusiastically (unless they have a socialistic, anti-capitalistic bent, in which case their treatment is avid) they relate the corruption involved in those and other railroad enterprises of the era. But they are strangely silent when it comes to James’s venture into the railroad industry.

James J. Hill was born on September 16, 1838, in Eramosa, Ontario, Canada. He wanted to be a sea captain, but he lost an eye in a childhood playing accident. Then he was forced to drop out of school after only nine years of formal education when his father died. He was forced to take a job as a bookkeeper for a steamboat company instead. But in that job he began to learn the various aspects of the freight transportation and transfer industry. He saved his money and eventually started his own transportation company. He also began buying struggling and bankrupt businesses, restoring them to profitability, and then reselling them for even greater profits.

After years of careful research, he and some other investors bought a number of failing small railroads, strengthened and even expanded their operations, reinvesting profits back into them. He soon became president of the company, the Great Northern Railroad. Between 1883 and 1889, he extended the line from eastern Minnesota eastward to Chicago and westward to Montana. By 1893, it reached Seattle, completing yet another transcontinental railroad.

But Hill’s line was vastly different. First, Hill was hands-on in his company’s operations. He himself rode by horseback, scouting out the best route. “What we want,” he said, “is the best possible line, shortest distance, lowest grades, and least curvature we can build.” The other transcontinentals didn’t worry about such things. They were paid to finish quickly and were paid by the mile; quality and cost didn’t matter.

Second, Hill encouraged immediate settlement of the areas through which his line ran. He bought tracts of farmland from the government and then sold them cheaply to hard-working immigrants from Northern Europe. He encouraged agricultural experiments, even setting up model farms and introducing pure-bred cattle, and taught the settlers how to produce more and better crops. Then he offered reasonable freight service to get their goods to eastern markets. He knew that if the settlers profited, he would profit too.

Perhaps most importantly and the factor that made his railroad the most radical then and now, he built his line without any help from the government, the first and only such transcontinental railroad to do so. He neither sought nor received government grants or subsidies. Whereas all of the other railroads did demand government help and ended up going bankrupt, Hill’s line thrived. “Those who got federal aid,” Folsom wrote, “ended up being hung by the strings that were attached to it.”

In 1880, Hill’s company was worth $728,000, and it increased in value to $25 million in 1885. By Hill’s death in 1916, his net worth was about $56 million (equivalent to $2.5 billion today). His wife inherited more than $16 million; each of his ten children got $4 million.

But more people than his family benefited from Hill’s hard work and business wisdom. He gave large sums to advance conservation, agricultural and livestock experimentation, libraries, and educational institutions, including a seminary. These causes were in addition to the thousands of individual farmers and other small businessmen who were aided in making a life for themselves in the rugged wilderness of America’s borderland with Canada. “It has always been our policy,” Hill declared, “to hold up the hand of the man who is cultivating the land.” And he set them a fine example for how to succeed: “Work, hard work, intelligent work, and then more work.” That’s what Hill said were the elements of success.

But Hill recognized the danger of not only government “help” but also the desire of both some people to get “something for nothing” and of politicians to manipulate that desire for their own empowerment. He warned, “The wealth of the country, its capital, its credit, must be saved from the predatory poor as well as the predatory rich, but above all from the predatory politician.”

Recommended reading: Burton Folsom, The Myth of the Robber Barons (Young America’s Foundation, 2010) and Uncle Sam Can’t Count (Broadside, 2014); and Thomas DiLorenzo, How Capitalism Saved America (Three Rivers Press, 2004).

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]