Andrew Carnegie and the Responsibility of Wealth

Responsibility: something that it is your job or duty to deal with in a positive manner that creates a real benefit for others.

To say that Andrew Carnegie left a legacy for the modern world is a gross understatement. Between 1883 and 1929 he funded and established of a total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries (1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Serbia, Belgium, France, the Caribbean, Mauritius, Malaysia and Fiji ). Not to mention the eponymous Carnegie Hall in New York or Carnegie Mellon University (founded in 1900 as the Carnegie Technical Schools). In addition he was one of the first major donors of the all African-American colleges Tuskegee and Hampton University and believed so much in the value of education that in 1901 he donated $10 million to start the Carnegie Scottish Universities Trust that by 1910  was covering the tuition for half of the four Scottish universities.

This weekend I am staying at Skibo Castle, the ancestral home of Andrew Carnegie in the Scottish Highlands north of Inverness, which is now a private members-only club dedicated to the ideals as well as the lifestyle and philosophy of its former owner.

Walking through the many rooms inside the castle I came across Andrew Carnegie’s personal office and library, a sumptuous space filled with books and antiques.  Browsing around I found one of Andrew Carnegie’s books, The Gospel of Wealth. It is fascinating reading for those concerned about income inequality and the growing global disparity between rich and poor.

Basically, Carnegie’s philosophy of a good and just life consisted of spending the first third of your life learning as much as possible (hence his belief in education and the value of libraries), the second third working as hard as possible to gain mastery and expertise in your chosen field (hence his successful gamble on steel versus iron at the outbreak of the first World War), and the last third administering the giving away of your fortune to those endeavours that would benefit the underprivileged, poor and society as a whole.

As a true advocate of personal responsibility, Carnegie refused to turn over all of his hard-earned wealth (and at one point he was the richest man in the world) to his children or to give away money to those looking for a handout.  In fact, he is remembered for a famous quote about money and responsibility:

The day is not far distant when the man who dies leaving behind him millions of available wealth, which was free for him to administer during life, will pass away unwept, unhonored, and unsung, no matter to what uses he leave the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these the public verdict will then be: The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced. Such, in my opinion, is the true gospel concerning wealth, obedience to which is destined some day to solve the problem of the rich and the poor.

As I look at the lives of the very rich, I can only see a few who have taken to heart the life lessons of Andrew Carnegie.  One of those being Bill Gates, who is definitely spending the last third of this life using his massive fortune to globally enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.

Today there are over 2,000 Billionaires in the world with a collective fortune of well over $7 Trillion, with 75 % of them in countries outside the US.

What if they all studied and applied the Andrew Carnegie philosophy of wealth?

And by the way, the rest of us may not have huge amounts of money to donate, but we do have time. And this is one classic case where time can be more important than money.

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,

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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