Listen now on
#248 John D. Rockefeller (Titan)
May 28th, 2022 | E248

What I learned from reading Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow. 


Come see a live show with me and Patrick O'Shaughnessy from Invest Like The Best on October 19th in New York City. 

Get your tickets here


Subscribe to listen to Founders Premium — Subscribers can ask me questions directly and listen to Ask Me Anything (AMA) episodes.


[2:15]  Rockefeller trained himself to reveal as little as possible

[4:22] Once Rockefeller set his mind to something he brought awesome powers of concentration to bear.

[4:44] My whole life has been spent trying to teach people that intense concentration for hour after hour can bring out in people resources they didn’t know they had. —Edwin Land

[9:00] When playing checkers or chess, he showed exceptional caution, studying each move at length, working out every possible countermove in his head. "I'll move just as soon as I get it figured out," he told opponents who tried to rush him. "You don't think I'm playing to get beaten, do you?"

[9:20] To ensure that he won, he submitted to games only where he could dictate the rules. Despite his slow, ponderous style, once he had thoroughly mulled over his plan of action, he had the power of quick decision.

[14:49] When John was child, Bill would urge him to leap from his high chair into his waiting arms. One day he dropped his arms letting his astonished son crash to the floor. Remember, Bill lectured him, never trust anyone completely. Not even me.

[15:32] The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst by David Nasaw (Founders #145) He didn't care what people thought of him and despised society.

[16:13] Rockefeller analyzed work, broke it down into component parts, and figured out how to perform it most economically.

[18:49] He was a confirmed exponent of positive thinking.

[19:10] Rockefeller was the sort of stubborn person who only grew more determined with rejection.

[25:14] Rockefeller wasn't one to dawdle in an unprofitable concern. His career had few wasted steps, and he never vacillated when the moment ripened for advancement.

[26:20] He's constantly praising adversity in early life as giving him strength to deal with all the stuff he had to deal with later on his life.

[26:49] Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power by James McGrath Morris. (Founders #135) He was so industrious that he became a positive annoyance to others who felt less inclined to work.

[27:17] Your future hangs on every day that passes.

[36:13] If it is of critical importance to your business you have to do it yourself.

[36:42] In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules by Stacy Perman. (Founders #244)

[38:36] He would never experience a single year of loss.

[39:30] Two quotes from Charlie Munger:

The wise ones bet heavily when the world offers them that opportunity. They bet big when they have the odds. And the rest of the time, they don't. It's just that simple. Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger. (Founders #90)

You should remember that good ideas are rare—when the odds are greatly in your favor, bet heavily. Tao of Charlie Munger: A Compilation of Quotes from Berkshire Hathaway's Vice Chairman on Life, Business, and the Pursuit of Wealth With Commentary by David Clark (Founders #78)

[41:03] He's gonna to have a massive advantage over other people who only wanted to book short-term profits.

[42:01]  The Clarks were the first of many business partners to underrate the audacity of the quietly calculating Rockefeller, who bided his time as he figured out how to get rid of them.

[44:27] He's super frugal on one end of the spectrum. Extremely frugal! Not going to let his business waste a penny. But he's also —on the very other end of the spectrum— willing to spend and to borrow and to go big. I will borrow every single dollar the banks will give me. He is the weird combination of extreme frugality and extreme boldness.

[46:08]  Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday (Founders 31)  On that day his partners “woke up and saw for the first time that my mind had not been idle while they were talking so big and loud,” he would say later. They were shocked. They’d seen their empire dismantled and taken from them by the young man they had dismissed. Rockefeller had wanted it more.

[47:13] On that day his partners “woke up and saw for the first time that my mind had not been idle while they were talking so big and loud,” he would say later. They were shocked. They’d seen their empire dismantled and taken from them by the young man they had dismissed. Rockefeller had wanted it more.

[47:37] He would never again feel his advancement blocked by shortsighted, mediocre men.

[48:16] From this point forward, there would be no zigzags or squandered energy, only a single-minded focus on objectives that would make him both the wonder and terror of American business.

[48:38] Random Reminiscences of Men and Events by John D. Rockefeller. (Founders #148) We devoted ourselves exclusively to the oil business and its products. That company never went into outside ventures, but kept to the enormous task of perfecting its own organization.

[55:02] He always kept plentiful cash reserves. He won many bidding contests simply because his war chest was deeper.

[55:46] Alexander the Great: The Brief Life and Towering Exploits of History's Greatest Conqueror--As Told By His Original Biographers by Arrian, Plutarch, and Quintus Curtius Rufus. (Founders #232)

[1:05:37] Twenty-nine-year-old John D. Rockefeller demanded that seventy four-year-old Commodore Vanderbilt, the emperor of the railroad world, come to him. This refusal to truckle, bend, or bow to others, this insistence on dealing with other people on his own terms, time, and turf, distinguished Rockefeller throughout his career.

[1:11:07] The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow. (Founders #139)

[1:14:16] This is the investment opportunity of a lifetime and they're running in the opposite direction.

[1:23:37] His master plan was to be implemented in a thousand secret, disguised, and indirect ways.

[1:26:37] I have ways of making money you know nothing about.

[1:30:59] You don't have any ambition to drive fast horses, do you?

[1:32:59] Risk Game: Self Portrait of an Entrepreneur by Francis Greenburger. (Founders #243)

[1:34:42] He was now living a fantasy of extravagant wealth and few people beyond the oil business had ever even heard of him.

[1:35:33] Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS by Greg Niemann. (Founders #192)

[1:36:00] American high society in the 20th century would be loaded with descendants of those refiners who opted for stock.

[1:39:02]  Enzo Ferrari: Power, Politics, and the Making of an Automobile Empire by Luca Dal Monte (Founders #98)

[1:39:30] Success comes from keeping the ears open and the mouth closed.

[1:40:22] Do not many of us who fail to achieve big things, fail because we lack concentration-the art of concentrating the mind on the thing to be done at the proper time and to the exclusion of everything else?

[1:42:31] Copy This!: How I turned Dyslexia, ADHD, and 100 square feet into a company called Kinkos by Paul Orfalea. (Founders #181)

[1:42:40] Part of the Standard Oil gospel was to train your subordinate to do your job. As Rockefeller instructed a recruit, "Has anyone given you the law of these offices? No? It is this: nobody does anything if he can get anybody else to do it. As soon as you can, get some one whom you can rely on, train him in the work, sit down, cock up your heels, and think out some way for the Standard Oil to make some money.” True to this policy, Rockefeller tried to extricate himself from the intricate web of administrative details and dedicate more of his time to broad policy decisions.

[1:49:50] He entered retirement just at the birth of the American automobile industry. The automobile would make John D. Rockefeller far richer in retirement than at work.


Subscribe to listen to Founders Premium — Subscribers can ask me questions directly which I will answer in Ask Me Anything (AMA) episodes 


I have listened to every episode released and look forward to every episode that comes out. The only criticism I would have is that after each podcast I usually want to buy the book because I am interested, so my poor wallet suffers. ”— Gareth

Be like Gareth. Buy a book: All the books featured on Founders Podcast