I was recently reading about J. Paul Getty. In the year of my birth, 1957 Fortune magazine named him the richest man in the world. So what can the life of the richest man alive at the start of my life, teach us? And are these lessons still relevant today? Getty read these words which inspired him. “If a lad makes up his mind from the start to do three things, to work, to learn and to save, he can rise in the world.” Written by a bloke who wrote comics. Lesson: Inspiration can come from anywhere.

Getty’s father began the oil business, but it is doubtful if he would have if he hadn’t gone to Oklahoma to close an overdue account for his insurance company. It was there that he saw the oil rush going on. Lesson: Serendipity and luck are the major movers.


His father gave him a year and a few dollars to prove himself, he failed. Lesson: Failure is a wonderful teacher.

He later bought a lease on a plot well away from the main concentration of oil wells. This contrarian attitude prevailed in much of his business dealings. Lesson: Be Contrarian, you can’t be valuable as one of the crowd.

He didn’t bid against the major oil companies himself, he got a banker to do it. The majors didn’t bid against this banker because;

  1. They had an overdraft with the bank
    They thought the banker was acting on behalf of a big name and figured they couldn’t win. Lesson: Cunning works, use some.
  2. Getty was in the oil business in the early 1920s when mechanisation was just beginning. Lesson: Right place Right time. Right now, right where you are is the right place, right time for something.

When the 1st World War broke out. The demand for oil was heavy and price rose from 40c a barrel in April 1914 to $1.73 in 1917. Lesson: What do you think?

Getty knew the nuts and bolts of the oil industry. Lesson: Preparation. Prepare as much as possible, then prepare some more.

Getty figured there must be some logical way to predict oil distribution. He was one of the first oil men to use the new science of geology. Lesson: Use new technology and methods.

Getty employed excellent geologists. Lesson: Hire the best people.

Getty always paid bargain rates, never overpaying for anything. Lesson: Protect the downside.

Getty was excellent at the oil business because he loved the oil business. Lesson: Love what you do.

So there we have it. I would say lessons like these are just as important now as they were then. At HummingByrd we try to put these into place, and in our work with other companies and people, we like to highlight these simple ideas that have been working very well for a very long time.

Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash