Succeeding with what you have by Charles M. Schwab - Summary

Charles M. Schwab was kind enough to share his wisdom on succeeding even if you have nothing to start out with in his concise and yet highly valuable book: Succeeding with what you have. Beneath you can find my notes from reading the book for each chapter.


Thinking beyond your job

  • people who don’t make it in business usually have 2 excuses:
    • “I’m not a genius.”
    • “There aren’t the opportunities today there used to be.”

To my mind, the best investment a young man starting out in business can possibly make is to give all his time, all his energies, to work - just plain hard work.

The man who fails to give fair service during the hours for which he is paid is dishonest. The man who is not willing to give more than this is foolish.

How men are appraised

  • don’t be afraid of risking your health for spending a few hours more with work

  • be the employee who works as long as there is any work to be done

  • Note: When Carnegie broke one of his former employer’s rules and was asked about the situation, he replied with a question stating the positive outcome instead of apologizing for his misbehavior.

  • People succeed who have real enthusiasm, genuine interest and think more about the job at hand than all his companions. Also, think about helping others in your company even if it’s not directly related to your job.

Seizing your opportunities

  • have overflowing enthusiasm for what you are doing

  • have integrity by not overstating or exaggerating anything while trying to sell something

  • cultivate a pleasing personality as this will help you succeed in anything

  • every achievement was the result of individual effort by practically developing a dream in the mind of an individual

The college man in business

  • you have a higher chance of success by going to work than entering college during your adolescents.

The higher education for which these boys were giving up three or four of their best years holds no advantage of itself in the coming business battle. It will be valueless industrially unless it is accompanied by a capacity for plain, hard work, for concentration, for clear thinking. These qualities are not learned in textbooks.

Neither knowledge of the classics nor mathematical proficiency can be converted overnight into a marketable commodity.

  • often, the common school boy has a higher advantage at business than the college boy who can sometimes be a little arrogant and hard to guide

  • Thomas Edison never went to college, for instance.

  • Practicality often trumps bare mathematics as illustrated by the example of calculating the cubic content of a light bulb meant as a lesson to a college boy with water and a scale by Thomas Edison.

What your employer expects

  • success of Bethlehem’s factory can be attributed to their profit sharing system and the enthusiasm among its workers

I love to appeal to the American spirit of conquest in my men, the spirit of doing things better than any one has ever done them before.

  • every worker/employee should get exactly what he makes himself worth

My twenty thousand partners

  • every employee gets a base salary coupled with bonuses based on their performance

  • performance is not only evaluated based on time but also on quality or other efficiencies

  • the money saved by the cost savings is directly shared with the employees

  • to carry this out, a company has to have a very detailed statistical overview about all tasks. This may cost time and money but always pays off.

We find that if a man has not ambition enough to earn bonuses he is not likely to remain with us long.

  • Most salaries at Bethlehem’s factory consisted of bonuses and the minimum wage only made out a small fraction.

  • General profit sharing rewards lazy people. Therefore one should avoid it.

  • Profit sharing easily allows to reduce wage costs during economic slack.

  • Profit sharing systems of the likes in Bethlehem can be employed in any industry, even banks.

The difference between us and other nations is that we know how to earn money, while they, in the main, know how to save it. The sordid, hoarding miser, who makes every sacrifice to accumulate, is so scarce with use as to cut no figure, while abroad he is everywhere.

Note: Lords of finance reference

Men I have worked with

  • Note: similar to other business successes of other successful people, Schwab and Carnegie were the first in a business and were lifted up by the tide of new business coming in. They were so to say “early adopters” in the steel industry. Schwab is responsible for producing the first steel girder that ever went into a skyscraper even though the business promised little at the time. Later they made millions.

He [Mr. Carnegie] had the broad views of a really big man. He was not bothered with the finicky little things that trouble so many people.

  • Carnegie one’s said to a newly promoted manager: “Now, boy, you will see a good many things which you mustn’t notice. Don’t blame your men for trivial faults. If you do you will dishearten them.”

When I want to find fault with my men I say nothing when I go through their departments. If I were satisfied I would praise them. My silence hurts them more than anything else in the world, and it doesn’t give offense. It makes them think and work harder.

  • Be kind and courteous to your men. It always pays.

Woman’s part in man’s success

  • a man is more valuable to a company if his wife takes the part of a discreet helper or co-director with him.

A nagging wife, or one who is not in sympathy with a man’s work, who expects impossible things of him, and is incapable of taking a general intelligent interest in his work, is one of the worst handicaps he could have.

  • people can have as much vacation as they want as long as their department is not lagging behind and they come back fully energized

  • Emperor Francis Joseph (Kaiser Franz Joseph) once said to Schwab during a visit: “What can you find in our small and comparatively unproductive establishments to interest you when you have such large, splendid steel plants in America?” to which Schwab responded: “At least, Your Majesty, I can see what to avoid.”

  • Aristocracy is bad for business and in general.

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The mind agrees.