There are few things I am more passionate about than entrepreneurship. It’s not only a way for us to use innovation and capitalism to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, but it’s also a path for anyone to make the life they want for themselves. It does requires ingenuity and hard work, but these are qualities that just about anyone can muster if they put in the effort. Entrepreneurship is even ingrained in the formation of our country, as reflected in the values of our founding fathers.
Thanks to our resident bookworm (and Director of New Business), Jim Dickson, I recently learned about a fascinating book called First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His — and the Nation’s — Prosperity, by Edward Lengel. Today, being “self-made” is considered the respected, standard method for achieving success. (Read this article we wrote about Benjamin Franklin, the quintessential self-made American man). But when America was new, most people were still mired in old-world thinking. Back then, prosperity was tied to nobility or other economic systems that made it extremely difficult to rise above one’s station. But George Washington made business a foundation of the United States, which is why author Lengel refers to him as “the first entrepreneur.” I encourage you to check out the book if this era of history interests you, but I’ll sum up some of the main takeaways for you here.
Many factors contributed to his successful business efforts
Throughout most of his life, when he wasn’t serving as a Revolutionary War commander and the nation’s first president, George Washington was pursuing his passion for business. After he retired from politics, he focused even more on his businesses—among them farms and distilleries. His business success was largely a product of his:
- Fortunate circumstances (inheritance)
- Inclination to work hard
- Obsessive attention to detail (particularly with his financial ledgers)
- Respect for the scientific process as a way to constantly optimize processes through reading, talking with experts, and experimentation
This just goes to show how there’s often more than one factor involved in success.
He was an expert strategist on and off the battlefield
Washington had the uncommon ability to focus on the details while simultaneously understanding the big picture. His strategic insight enabled him to make critical decisions ahead of the curve, putting him in a position of strength as the markets turned. Some examples include things like transitioning from tobacco to wheat production in response to oversupply and trading depreciating currency for land during the war.
He was committed to learning, starting at a young age
Having become a surveyor as a young man, Washington acquired a deep understanding of the land valuation process—a skill which became essential to his future as a farmer and real estate investor. The takeaway here? Anyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur should spend as much time as they can (as early as they can) learning from others and studying industries that interest them.
I found it refreshing to delve into another aspect of George Washington’s expansive legacy. I hope these insights into his business acumen will inspire you in your own efforts.