Is Business Advice from the 19th and 20th Century Still Valid in the Internet Age?


There is no question that we are currently in an age when the fundamental economics of business success are being rewritten almost daily.  The internet and 24/7 connectivity, coupled with global transparency and compounded by breakneck technological advances in all fields have made the road to business and financial success into a multilane superhighway. When the likes of Facebook can have revenue of just $25 Billion yet a market value of $340 Billion, with almost no physical assets, it is a testament to the fact that the game of business is very different now from 1oo years ago. Compare Facebook with ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer, which has recent annual revenue of $65 billion, yet a market value of only $25 billion. The market places greater value on an internet/technology/social media company like Facebook than a global steel producer like AcrelorMittal.

But are the fundamental principles for effective leadership and business success different as well? Or are they the same, just perhaps speeded up? And is there anything to be learned from the writings and teaching of those who built successful mega-businesses in the last century, or should these past success formulas be ignored?

Think and Grow Rich

think-and-grow-richIn an interview with Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the world at the time, a young reporter, Napoleon Hill, accepted the challenge to put down the formulas for personal and business success by interviewing the great business and political leaders of the early 20th Century.  Andrew Carnegie would insure accessibility to over 500 successful individuals and it was Hill’s job to tease out the common success principles.  In 1937 the book Think and Grow Rich was published and since has sold over 100 million copies and inspired many to build successful businesses and personal lives.

The main thesis of the book resided in the principle that success in any endeavour begins in the mind, with a strong, compelling belief in self.  It is this strong belief that separates the “I would like to . . ” from the “I will . . .” and leads to action.  Belief, put into determined action, combined with persistence and the desire to give more than you receive, are the fundamental success principles repeated over and over, in various ways, by those whom Napoleon Hill interviewed for his book.  And many readers of Think and Grow Rich during the 20th Century prospered by these success formulas.

Are they still valid? Or has globalization, social media, the Internet and technology rewritten the rules?

There is no denying that the economics and financial metrics of business success have changed since the days of Andrew Carnegie, Alfred Sloan, John D. Rockefeller and other business giants of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Markets value future earnings more than current performance and investors trade stocks quickly rather than seek out long term value holdings.

But when I look at the human formulas behind huge modern global corporations like Alphabet Inc. (Google), Amazon, Starbucks, Facebook,, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix and others we find the basic laws of success still very much at the foundation. Silicon Valley type companies frequently come and go, but those which have lasted not only have cool technology or engaging social media, but the foundations of common success principles.


Steve Jobs was notorious for his strong belief coupled with determination that anything was possible and that there was ALWAYS a solution.  Reed Hastings built Netflix based on a solid culture of accountability, open discourse, willing to change and learning from mistakes.

“Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management. That’s the contract.”  Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks

If you want to build a sustainable modern enterprise and a successful culture with accountable leadership at all levels, I strongly suggest you make a New Year’s resolution to buy a copy of Think and Grow Rich and really study it, then put the principles into practice in 2017.

The best investment you will every make, better than stocks or bonds, is in yourself!  ~My Father

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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