Random Reminiscences of Men and Events, by John D. Rockefeller is part of the HackerNoon Books series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Chapter I : ARGUMENTS VERSUS CAPITAL
One of my partners, who had successfully built up a large and prosperous business, was resisting with all his force a plan that some of us favoured, to make some large improvements. The cost of extending the operations of this enterprise was estimated at quite a sum—three million dollars, I think it was. We had talked it over and over again, and with several other associates discussed all the pros and cons; and we had used every argument we could command to show why the plan would not only be profitable, but was indeed necessary to maintain the lead we had. Our old partner was obdurate, he had made up his mind not to yield, and I can see him standing up in his vigorous protest, with his hands in his pockets, his head thrown back, as he shouted "No."
It's a pity to get a man into a place in an argument where he is defending a position instead of considering the evidence. His calm judgment is apt to leave him, and his mind is for the time being closed, and only obstinacy remains. Now these improvements had to be made—as I said before, it was essential. Yet we could not quarrel with our old partner, but a minority of us had made up our minds that we must try to get him to yield, and we resolved to try another line of argument, and said to him:
"You say that we do not need to spend this money?"
"No," he replied, "it will probably prove to be many years before such a sum must be spent. There is no present need for these facilities you want to create, and the works are doing well as they are—let's let well enough alone."
Now our partner was a very wise and experienced man, older and more familiar with the subject than some of us, and all this we admitted to him; but we had made up our minds, as I have said, to carry out this idea if we could possibly get his approval, and we were willing to wait until then. As soon as the argument had calmed down, and when the heat of our discussion had passed, the subject was brought up again. I had thought of a new way to approach it. I said:
"I'll take it, and supply this capital myself. If the expenditure turns out to be profitable the company can repay me; and, if it goes wrong, I'll stand the loss."
That was the argument that touched him. All his reserve disappeared and the matter was settled when he said:
"If that's the way you feel about it, we'll go it together. I guess I can take the risk if you can."
It is always, I presume, a question in every business just how fast it is wise to go, and we went pretty rapidly in those days, building and expanding in all directions. We were being confronted with fresh emergencies constantly. A new oil field would be discovered, tanks for storage had to be built almost over night, and this was going on when old fields were being exhausted, so we were therefore often under the double strain of losing the facilities in one place where we were fully equipped, and having to build up a plant for storing and transporting in a new field where we were totally unprepared. These are some of the things which make the whole oil trade a perilous one, but we had with us a group of courageous men who recognized the great principle that a business cannot be a great success that does not fully and efficiently accept and take advantage of its opportunities.
How often we discussed those trying questions! Some of us wanted to jump at once into big expenditures, and others to keep to more moderate ones. It was usually a compromise, but one at a time we took these matters up and settled them, never going as fast as the most progressive ones wished, nor quite so carefully as the conservatives desired, but always made the vote unanimous in the end.
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Rockefeller, John D. 2005. Essays on some unsettled Questions of Political Economy. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/17090/17090-h/17090-h.htm
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