The Change Makers
by Maury Klein
Times Books
320 pages
$26.00

Say Good-Bye to the Robber Barons

According to Maury Klein, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and an acclaimed business historian, a label like "robber baron" does not do justice to those it describes. He believes this narrow stereotype is deceptive and fails to recognize the accomplishments of the men it is used to pigeonhole. After examining the history of the words used to describe those who drive the economy with their innovations, and the dozens of writers who have tried to get a handle on the phenomenon of enterprise, he pinpoints several entrepreneurs and details their journeys into unexplored territories while exploring their contributions to our collective experiences.

Throughout The Change Makers, Klein delves into the lives and accomplishments of 26 entrepreneurs whose creativity has impacted the economic landscape. Those he profiles include producers (Andrew Carnegie, George Eastman, etc.), organizers (Pierre du Pont, Jay Gould, etc.), merchandisers (Ray Kroc, Samuel Walton, etc.), technologists (Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, etc.), and investor Warren Buffett. Although he says these divisions are somewhat arbitrary, since many of these men crossed between categories, he uses these labels to develop greater understanding of each by comparing and contrasting those who excelled in their fields with others who made similar leaps of ingenuity in different eras.

Ruthless Efficiency

Klein describes the accomplishments of these men in brief profiles and in summaries of their visions and their strengths. He explains that Carnegie was able to out-produce the British, who dominated the steel and iron markets of the day, with ruthless efficiency and by introducing new technologies as soon as they appeared. James Duke made a mint from his multinational corporation, British-American Tobacco (BAT), by investing in an unproven cigarette machine and using aggressive marketing to dominate his industry. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a wise investor who built one of the two strongest railroad systems in the nation using his skills for efficiency, organization and competition.

As an example of the creative nature of entrepreneurs and their ability to place intelligence and ability into the realm of business, Klein describes Jay Gould as a man who brilliantly expanded his railroad system westward to create a dominant transcontinental line, forcing others to rethink their own strategy and policies.

The Partnership Principle

Klein examines the great merchandisers with equal admiration. He details how Frank Woolworth was able to turn a small Pennsylvania store into an international retailing empire of a thousand stores by bargaining for inexpensive goods and buying only goods that moved. He was also able to harness the principle of partnerships, where a partner would share a store's startup costs and receive half of its profits, allowing Woolworth to expand without going into debt.

Klein describes Ray Kroc as the creator of a unique franchising system that emphasized uniform standards, teamwork, loyalty and individual creativity. His focus on long-term partnerships that benefited franchisers, franchisees, and suppliers alike, Klein writes, was able to help him build relationships and turn McDonald's into a billion-dollar company with thousands of restaurants throughout the world.

In the realm of technology, Klein highlights the career of Bill Gates, who was able to both create a new colossus with his ability to rework existing products for other markets, and "manage it at the next level of growth." Klein compares Gates to Carnegie -- both were able to see the value of low pricing and preemptive strikes.

While marveling at the business accomplishments of Gates, Klein also recognizes the vast contributions his Gates Foundation continues to make to charitable causes around the globe. In a chapter that examines the business of philanthropy, Gates becomes a point of comparison for the rest of the great philanthropists. Not only does his fortune exceed the fortunes of Carnegie and Rockefeller, but his charitable donations dwarf all others. For example, Warren Buffet, the world's second richest man (after Gates), has made only a fraction of Gates' charitable contributions.

Why We Like This Book

In The Change Makers, Klein offers fresh insight into the lives and accomplishments of fascinating characters who changed society and business in substantial ways. Not only does he make insightful comparisons that shed light on their similarities and differences, but he also examines them as distinctively individual people who were uniquely creative and idiosyncratic. Klein's book reveals real people filled with style, passion and vision.