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#284 Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick
January 2nd, 2023 | E284

What I learned from rereading Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America by Les Standiford.


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[0:01] Frick had been the man Carnegie trusted above all others to manage the affairs of Carnegie Steel.

[2:00] Carnegie had delegated the job of holding the line on wages and other demands to Frick—a Patton to Carnegie's FDR.

[3:00] The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Carnegie.  (Founders #283)

[5:00] Here's a starter pack of essentials  for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making. —Jeff Bezos’s Shareholder Letters (Founders #282)

[7:00] In less than half a century the United States had been transformed―from a largely agrarian and underdeveloped federation of competing interests, to a relatively cohesive economic juggernaut. The age of the Founding Fathers was over. The Age of the Titans had begun.

[12:00] By 1863 Carnegie was earning more than $45,000 a year from this and all his other investments, compared with a mere $2,400 from his railroad salary. Yet he understood that it was the contacts he made and the information he derived from his association with the railroad that made everything else possible.

[13:00] More control. Less costs. More profit.

[15:00] Technology is just a better way to do something: As a result of the process for transforming iron to steel that bore his name (Bessemer), a quantity of steel that might formerly have taken as long as two weeks to produce could now be made in fifteen minutes.

[17:00] Carnegie starts his company during a financial panic. The best time to expand is when no one else dares to take the risk.

[20:00] Already the best but still wants to do better: Even his key employees were not spared Carnegie's heavy-handed management style. To almost every positive report Carnegie's response was "Good, but let us do better."

[21:00] Cut the prices, scoop the market, watch the costs, and the profits will take care of themselves.

[21:00] Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire by James Wallace and Jim Erickson (Founders #140)

[22:00] He could make steel more efficiently than any of them.

[24:00] Henry Clay Frick: The Life of the Perfect Capitalist by Quentin Skrabec Jr. (Founders #75)

[24:00] Like Rockefeller, Henry Clay Frick used a lot of borrowed money to get his start in the coke business. There was a line in one of Rockefeller’s biographies where it said “he was the greatest borrower I’ve ever seen.”

[26:00] Frick knew his business down to the ground.

[26:00] LIke Carnegie, Frick expands his business during an economic panic. Frick, who would later recall this as one of the most grueling times in his life, proved as undaunted in the face of adversity as Carnegie had been.

[34:00] Carneige was accustomed to obedience from his subordinates, but if he expected unquestioned subservience from Henry Frick, he had gravely miscalculated.

[36:00] Frick was no puppet, but rather a man willing to take considerable risks in defense of his principles.

[37:00] Frick had ambition, a singleness of purpose, and a lack of self—doubt that even Carneige envied.

[38:00] Carnegie would repeat the mantra time and again: profits and prices were cyclical, subject to any number of transient forces of the marketplace. Costs, however, could be strictly controlled, and in Carnegie’s view, any savings achieved in the costs of goods were permanent.

[39:00] On this issue the two men were of one mind. Frick had made his way in coke by the same reckoning that Carnegie had in rail and steel: if you knew your costs down to the penny, you were always on firm ground.

[39:00] Frick had always understood how essential new technologies were in driving costs down. Cost control became nearly an obsession.

[47:00] [Frick was shot] Only after he was finished with his day’s work did Frick permit himself to be carried from the office to an ambulance.

[49:00] You must not allow anything to discourage you in the least. Even if things do not go well for some time to come, or even if they should get much worse. Just keep at it, doing the best you can. Do not allow the fact that you are not getting along as well as you would like to lead you to put yourself in a compromising position.

[1:03:00] Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes. (Founders #83)

[1:04:00] J.P. Morgan understood the folly of a long-term battle with the Carnegie Company, a firm that controlled its own sources of raw materials, transport, and manufacture, and that was far more deeply capitalized than his or any other of the upstarts. They might stay in the game for a while, and they might put a dent in Carnegie's armor, but in the end, Carnegie would run them into the ground, every one.


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