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  1. John D. Rockefeller: Introduction
  2. John D. Rockefeller: Early Life and Education
  3. John D. Rockefeller: Success Story
  4. John D. Rockefeller: Net Worth
  5. John D. Rockefeller: Famous or Infamous
  6. John D. Rockefeller: Most Influential Quotes

Focusing on a historical figure’s “contradictions” is a tired cliché, but in the case of John Davidson Rockefeller (1839 – 1937), it’s hard to avoid. There’s the obvious one, that he relentlessly accumulated wealth only to give so much of it away, but we’re familiar enough with that phenomenon due to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and others doing the same thing. What’s strange is how deeply this tension between piety and callousness, generosity and ruthlessness, obsessiveness and extravagance, ran in Rockefeller. (For more, see: Zuckerberg Pledges to Give Away 99% of his Wealth.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” By that standard, Rockefeller has to be one of the most intelligent people to ever live. And yet, some kind of internal pressure built up, becoming too much for him to handle, and he experienced a “crack-up” not totally unlike the one Fitzgerald references through that quote. Rockefeller lost every hair on his body, and it never grew back. Being two people at once is stressful. 

He was the original oil man. Decades before the first Model T rolled off Ford's assembly line, when gasoline was still considered a noxious byproduct of the refining process (though not by the waste-averse Rockefeller), Standard Oil was making millions of dollars in profit every year. Eventually – and ironically, only after it was broken up – the trust would make Rockefeller the richest American in history. 

And yet he rode public transportation to and from work every day and would from time to time serve as his church’s janitor. He was a strange person, as the most insightful and creative people tend to be. There’s a great deal that business owners, managers, investors and philanthropists can learn from his life, both in terms of how to build success and how to avoid self-sabotage. (For related reading, see: J.D. (John) Rockefeller: From Oil Baron to Billionaire.)

The cause of both, for Rockefeller, was an incredible confidence in his own abilities and the righteousness of his actions. That hubris may be the one quality he possessed without also possessing its opposite in equal measure, and it gave rise to all of the deep clashes in his personality.


John D. Rockefeller: Early Life and Education
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