In 1650, a Dutch farmer named Jan Aertson immigrated to New York from the village of De Bilt in the Netherlands. He was an indentured servant.
His last name was eventually changed to Vanderbilt (which literally means “of De Bilt”).
You may recognize one of his descendants as Cornelius Vanderbilt, a key developer in the shipping and transportation industries in our country.
It was his grandson, George Vanderbilt, who built the infamous Biltmore Estate. He had a railroad built right up to what is now the front entrance so the skilled craftsmen and materials could be transported in to build the estate. What they accomplished is nothing short of amazing. What is even more amazing is that it started with one person – an indentured servant.
There’s an interesting series being aired on the History channel these days called The Men Who Built America. It’s a very interesting study in leadership and a pretty amazing tale of how just a few men were able to accomplish what most would consider impossible.
Here are some observations that stood out to me:
1. These were men of different personalities.
One would think they would all be the same – high D, driven and direct. But that is not the case. Some appear to be the quiet contemplators – deep-thinking, C-wired men.
2. Each reached a certain level of achievement on his own, and then (here’s the key), they realized they needed to partner up to reach the next level.
So while Andrew Carnegie built his steel empire, he very quickly realized he needed the transportation infrastructure created by Cornelius Vanderbilt. And, of course, Vanderbilt needed Carnegie’s steel. Steel, oil, transportation, and power – no one man could have pulled such an empire together alone.
3. They each failed.
In fact, each failed many times. They used failure as a stepping stone to success.
4. They faced obstacles.
But here’s the common characteristic of all of them – they never gave up.
5. They were visionary.
They could see ahead to the opportunities of the future. They saw the possibilities, not the impossibilities. While others saw what was, they saw what could be. They saw the bigger picture.
6. They anticipated problems – and formulated solutions well before the needs became evident.
When the needs arose, they were there with answers. What appeared to be instant success was really years in the making.
7. They were not perfect.
In fact, some did things they would regret in later years. But they built America.
So where are you today? Are you in what feels like a strange new country? Do you feel enslaved by your current circumstances? Are you facing obstacles, stuck, failing? Are you imperfect?
Welcome to opportunity.
You can stay where you are or build an empire.
Our country and maybe even your company needs leaders who will work together to do the impossible once again.