Men Of Business - Examples
( Originally Published 1884 )
Firmness.—Tact.—Napoleon and Wellington, as Men of Business.—Napoleon's Attention to Details.—The "Napoleon Correspondence."—Wellington's Business Faculty.—Wellington in the Peninsula.—" Honesty the best Policy."—Trade Tries Character.—Dishonest Gains.
"That man is but of the lower part of the world that is not brought up to business and affairs."—OWEN FELTHAM.
IN addition to the ordinary working qualities, the business man of the highest class requires quick perception and firmness in the execution of his plans. Tact is also important; and though this is partly the gift of nature, it is yet capable of being cultivated and developed by observation and experience. Men of this quality are quick to see the right mode of action, and if they have decision of purpose, are prompt to carry out their undertakings to a successful issue. These qualities are especially valuable, and indeed indispensable, in those who direct the action of other men on a large scale, as for instance, in the case of the commander of an army in the field. It is not merely necessary that the general should be great as a warrior but also as a man of business. He must possess great tact, much knowledge of character, and ability to organize the movements of a large mass of men, whom he has to feed, clothe, and. furnish with whatever may be necessary in order that they may keep the field and win battles. In these respects Napoleon and Wellington were both first-rate men of business.
Though Napoleon had an immense love for details, he had also a vivid power of imagination, which enabled him to look along extended lines of action, and deal with those details on a large scale, with judgment and rapidity. He possessed such knowledge of character as enabled him to select, almost unerringly, the best agents for the execution of his designs. But he trusted as little as possible to agents in matters of great moment, on which important results depended. This feature in his character is illustrated in a remarkable degree by the " Napoleon Correspondence," now in course of publication, and particularly by the contents of the fifteenth volume, which include the letters, orders, and dispatches written by the Emperor at Finkenstein, a little chateau on the frontier of Poland in the year 1807, shortly after the victory of Eylau.
The French army was then lying encamped along the river Passarge, with the Russians before them, the Austrians on the right flank, and the conquered Prussians in their rear. A long line of communications had to be maintained with France, through a hostile country; but so carefully, and with such forsight was this provided for, that it is said Napoleon never missed a post. The movements of armies, the bringing up of reinforcements from remote points in France, Spain, Italy,. and Germany, the openings of canals and the levelling of roads to enable the produce of Poland and Prussia to be readily transported to his encampments, had his. unceasing attention, down to the minutest details. We find him directing where horses were to be obtained, making arrangements for an adequate supply of saddles,. ordering shoes for the soldiers, and specifying the number of rations of bread, biscuit, and spirits that were to be brought to camp, or stored in magazines for the use of the troops. At the same time we ' find him writing to Paris, giving directions for the reorganization of the French College, devising a scheme of publie education, dictating bulletins and articles for the " Moniteur," revising the details of the budgets, giving instructions to architects as to alterations to be made at the Tuileries and the Church of the Madelaine, throwing an occasional sarcasm at Madame de Stael and the Parisian' journals, interfering to put down a squabble at the Grand Opera, carrying on a correspondence with the Sultan of Turkey and the Shah of Persia, so that while his body was at Finkenstein his mind seemed to be working at a hundred different places in Paris, in Europe, and throughout the world.
We find him in one letter asking Ney if he has duly received the muskets which have been sent him; in an-other he gives directions to Prince Jerome as to the shirts, great-coats, clothes, shoes, shakos, and arms, to be served out to the Wurtemburg regiments; again he presses Cambaceres to forward to the army a double stock of corn—" The ifs and the buts," said he, " are at present out of season, and above all it must be done with speed." Then he informs Daru that the army wants shirts, and that they don't come to hand. To Massena he writes, " Let me know if your buiscuit and bread arrangements are yet completed." To the Grand Due de Berg, he gives directions as to the accoutrements of the cuirassiers--"They complain that the men want sabres; send an officer to obtain them at Posen. It is also said they want helmets; order that they be made at Ebling It is not by sleeping that one can accomplish any thing." Thus no point of detail was neglected, and the energies of all were stimulated into action with extraordinary power. Though many of the Emperor's days were occupied by inspections of his troops-in the course of which he sometimes rode from thirty to forty leagues a day and by reviews, receptions, and affairs of state, leaving but little time for business matters, he neglected nothing on that account; but devoted the greater part of his nights, when necessary, to examining budgets, dictating dispatches, and attending to the thousand matters of detail in the organization and working of the Imperial Government; the machinery of which was for the most part concentrated in his own head.
Like Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington was a first-rate man of business; and it is not perhaps saying too much to aver that it was in no small degree because of his possession of a business faculty amounting to genius, that the Duke never lost a battle.
While a subaltern, he became dissatisfied with the slowness of his promotion, and having passed from the infantry to the cavalry twice, and back again, without advancement, he applied to Lord Camden, then Viceroy of Ireland, for employment in the Revenue or Treasury Board. Had he succeeded, no doubt he would have made a first-rate head of a department, as he would have made a first-rate merchant or manufacturer. But his application failed, and he remained with the army to become the greatest of British generals.
The Duke began his active military career under the Duke of York and General Walmoden, in Flanders and Holland, where he learnt, amidst misfortunes and de-feats, how bad business arrangements and bad general-ship serve to ruin the morale of an army. Ten years after entering the army we find him a colonel in India, reported by his superiors as an officer of indefatigable energy and application. He entered into the minutest details of the service, and sought to raise the discipline of his men of the highest standard. " The regiment of Colonel Wellesley," wrote General Harris in 1799, " is a model regiment; on the score of soldierly bearing, discipline, instruction, and orderly behavior it is above all praise." Thus qualifying himself for posts of greater confidence, he was shortly after nominated governor of the capital of Mysore. In the war with the Mahrattas he was first called upon to try his hand at general-ship; and at thirty-four he won the memorable battle of Assaye, with an army composed of 1,500 British and 5,000 Sepoys, over 20,000 Mahratta infantry and 30,000 cavalry. But so brilliant a victory did not in the least disturb his equanimity, or affect the perfect honesty of his character. Shortly after this event the opportunity occurred for exhibiting his admirable practical qualities as an administrator. Placed in command of an import-ant district immediately after the capture of Seringapatam, his first object was to establish rigid order and discipline among his own men. Flushed with victory, the troops were found riotous and disorderly. " Send me the provost-marshal," said he, " and put him under my orders: till some of the marauders are hung, it is impossible to expect order or safety." This rigid severity of Wellington in the field, though it was the dread, proved the salvation of his troops in many campaigns. His next step was to re-establish the markets and reopen the sources of supply. General Harris wrote to the Governor-general, strongly commending Colonel Wellesley for the perfect discipline he had established, and for his " judicious and masterly arrangements in respect to supplies, which opened an abundant free market, and inspired confidence into dealers of every description." The same close attention to, and mastery of details, characterized him throughout his Indian career; and it is remarkable that one of his ablest dispatches to Lord Clive, full of practical infor mation as to the conduct of the campaign, was written whilst the column he commanded was crossing the Toombuddra, in the face of the vastly superior army of Dhoondiah, posted on the opposite bank, and while a thousand matters of the deepest interest were pressing upon the commander's mind. But it was one of his most remarkable characteristics, thus to be able to withdraw himself temporarily from the business immediately in hand, and to bend his full powers upon the consideration of matters totally distinct; even the most difficult circumstances on such occasions failing to embarrass or intimidate him.
Returned to England with a reputation for general-ship, Sir Arthur Wellesley met with immediate employment. In 1808 a corps of 10,000 men destined to liberate Portugal was placed under his charge. He landed, fought and won two battles, and signed the Convention of Cintra. After the death of Sir John Moore he was intrusted with the command of a new expedition in Portugal. But Wellington was fearfully overmatched throughout his Peninsular campaigns. From 1809 to 1813 he never had more than 30,000 British troops under his command, at a time when there stood opposed to him in the Peninsula some 350,000 French, mostly veterans, led by some of Napoleon's ablest generals. How was he to contend against such immense force with any fair prospect of success? His clear discernment and strong common sense soon taught him that he must adopt a different policy from that of the Spanish generals, who were in-variably beaten and dispersed whenever they ventured to offer battle in the open plains. He perceived he had yet to create the army that was to contend against the French with any reasonable chance of success. Accordingly, after the battle of Talavera in 18o9, when he found himself encompassed on all sides by superior forces of French, he retired into Portugal, there to carry out the settled policy on which he had by this time determined. It was, to organize a Portuguese army under British officers, and teach them to act in combination with his own troops, in the mean time avoiding the peril of a defeat by declining all engagements. He would thus, he conceived, destroy the morale of the French, who could not exist without victories; and when his army was ripe for action, and the enemy demoralized, he would then fall upon them with all his might.
The extraordinary qualities displayed by Lord Wellington throughout these immortal campaigns, can only be appreciated after a perusal of his dispatches, which contain the unvarnished tale of the 'manifold ways and means by which he laid the foundations of his success. Never was man more tried by difficulty and opposition, arising not less from the imbecility, falsehoods, and intrigues of the British Government of the day, than from the selfishness, cowardice, and vanity of the people he went to save. It may, indeed, be said of him, that he sustained the war in Spain by his individual firmness and self reliance, which never failed him, even in the midst of his greatest discouragements. He had not only to fight Napoleon's veterans, but also to hold in check the Spanish juntas and the Portuguese regency. He had the utmost difficulty in obtaining pro-visions and clothing for his troops; and it will scarcely be credited that, while engaged with the enemy in the battle of Talavera, the Spaniards, who ran away, fell upon the baggage of the British army, and the ruffians actually plundered it! These and other vexations the Duke bore with a sublime patience and self-control, and held on his course, in the face of ingratitude, treachery, and opposition, with indomitable firmness. He neglected nothing, and attended to every important detail of business himself. When he found that food for his troops was not to be obtained from England, and that he must rely upon his own resources for feeding them, he forthwith commenced business as a corn-merchant on a large scale, in copartnery with the British Minister at Lisbon. Commissariat bills were created, with which grain was bought in the ports of the Mediteranean and in South America. When he had thus filled his magazines, the overplus was sold to the Portuguese, who were greatly in want of provisions. He left nothing whatever to chance, but provided for every contingency. He gave his attention to the minutest details of the service; and was accustomed to concentrate his whole energies, from time to time, on such apparently ignominious matters as soldiers' shoes, camp-kettles, biscuits, and horse-fodder. His magnificent business qualities were everywhere felt; and there can be no doubt that, by the care with which he provided for every contingency, and the personal attention which he gave to every detail, he laid the foundations of his great success. By such means he transformed an army of raw levies into the best soldiers in Europe, with whom he declared it to be possible to go anywhere and do any thing.
We have already referred to his remarkable power of abstracting himself from the work, no matter how engrossing, immediately in hand, and concentrating his energies upon the details of some entirely different business. Thus Napier relates that it was while he was preparing to fight the battle of Salamanca that he had to expose to the Ministers at home the futility of relying upon a loan; it was on the heights of San Christoval, on the field of battle itself, that he demonstrated the absurdity of attempting to establish a Portuguese bank; it was in the trenches of Burgos that he dissected Funchal's scheme of finance, and exposed the folly of attempting the sale of church property; and on each occasion he showed himself as well acquainted with these subjects as with the minutest detail in the mechanism of armies.
Another feature in his character, showing the upright man of business, was his thorough honesty. Whilst Soult ransacked and carried away with him from Spain numerous pictures of great value, Wellington did not appropriate to himself a single farthing's worth of property. Everywhere he paid his way, even when in the enemy's country. When he had crossed the French frontier, followed by 40,000 Spaniards, who sought to " make fortunes" by pillage and plunder, he first rebuked their officers, and then, finding his efforts to restrain them unavailing, he sent them back into their own country. It is a remarkable fact, that, even in France, the peasantry fled from their own countrymen, and carried their valuables within the protection of the British lines! At the very same time Wellington was writing home to the British Ministry, We are overwhelmed with debts, and I can scarcely stir out of my house on account of public creditors waiting to demand payment of what is due to them." Jules Maurel, in his estimate of the Duke's character, says, " Nothing can be grander or more nobly original than this admission. This old soldier, after thirty years' service, this iron man and victorious general, established in an enemy's country at the head of an immense army, is afraid of his creditors ! This is a kind of fear that has seldom troubled the mind of conquerors and invaders; and I doubt if the annals of war could present any thing comparable to this sublime simplicity." But the Duke him-self, had the matter been put to him, would most probably have disclaimed any attention of acting even grandly or nobly in the matter; merely regarding the punctual payment of his debts as the best and most honorable mode of conducting his business.
The truth of the good old maxim, that " Honesty is the best policy," is upheld by the daily experience of life, uprightness and integrity being found as successful in business as in every thing else. As Hugh Miller's worthy' uncle used to advise him, " In all your dealings give your neighbor the cast of the bauk 'good measure, heaped up, and running over' and you will not lose by it in the end." A well-known brewer of beer attributed his success to the liberality with which he used his malt. Going up to the vat and tasting it, he would say, " Still rather poor, my lads; give it another cast of the malt." The brewer put his character into his beer, and it proved generous accordingly, obtaining a reputation in England, India, and the colonies, which laid the foundation of a large fortune. Integrity of word and deed ought to be the very corner-stone of all business transactions. To the tradesman, the merchant, and manufacturer, it should be what honor is to the soldier, and charity to the Christian. In the humblest calling there will always be found scope for the exercise of this uprightness of character. Hugh Miller speaks of the mason with whom he served his apprenticeship, as one who " put his conscience into every stone that he laid." So the true mechanic will pride himself upon the thoroughness and solidity of his work, and the high-minded contractor upon the honesty of performance of his contract in every particular. The upright manufacturer will find not only honor and reputation, but substantial success, in the genuineness of the article which he produces, and the merchant in the honesty of what he sells, and that it really is what. it seems to be. Baron Dupin, speaking of the general probity of Englishmen, which he held to be a principal cause of their success, observed, " We may succeed for a time by fraud, by surprise, by violence; but we can succeed permanently only by means directly opposite. It is not alone the courage, the intelligence, the activity,. of the merchant and manufacturer which maintain the. superiority of their productions and the character of their country; it is far more their wisdom, their economy, and, above all, their probity. If ever in the British Islands the useful citizen should lose these virtues, we may be sure that, for England, as for every other country, the vessels of a degenerate commerce, repulsed from every shore, would speedily disappear from those seas whose surface they now cover with the treasures of the universe, bartered for the treasures of the industry of the three kingdoms."
It must be admitted, that trade tries character perhaps more severely than any other pursuit in life. It puts to the severest tests honesty, self-denial, justice, and truthfulness; and men of business who pass through such trials unsustained are perhaps worthy of as great honor as soldiers who prove their courage amidst the fire and perils of battle. And, to the credit of the multitudes of men engaged in the various departments of trade, we think it must be admitted that on the whole they pass through their trials nobly. If we reflect but for a moment on the vast amount of wealth daily in-trusted even to the subordinate persons, who them-selves probably earn but a bare competency the loose cash which is constantly passing through the hands of shopmen, agents, brokers, and clerks in banking-houses and note how comparatively few are the breaches of trust which occur amidst all this temptation, it will probably be admitted that this steady daily honesty of conduct is most honorable to human nature, if it do not even tempt us to be proud of it. The same trust and confidence reposed by men of business in each other, as implied by the system of credit, which is mainly based upon the principal of honor, would be surprising if it were not so much a matter of ordinary practice in business transactions. Dr. Chalmers has well said that the implicit trust with which merchants are accustomed to confide in distant agents, separated from them perhaps by half the globe often consigning vast wealth to persons recommended only by their character, whom perhaps they have never seen is probably the finest act of homage which men can render to one another.
Although common honesty is still happily in the ascendant among common people, and the general business community of England is still sound at heart, putting their honest character into their respective callings, there are unhappily, as there have been in all times, but too many instances of flagrant dishonesty and fraud, exhibited by the unscrupulous, the over speculative, and the intensely selfish, in their haste to be rich.. There are tradesmen who adulterate, contractors who-" scamp," manufacturers who give us shoddy instead of wool, " dressing " instead of cotton, cast-iron tools instead of steel, needles without eyes, razors made only " to sell," and swindled fabrics in many shapes. But these we must hold to be the exceptional cases of low-minded and grasping men, who, though they may gain wealth, which they probably can not enjoy, will never gain an honest character, nor secure that without which wealth is nothing a heart at peace. The rogue cozened not me, but his own conscience, said Bishop Latimer of a cutler who made him pay twopence for a knife not worth a penny. Money earned by screwing, cheating, and overreaching, may for a time dazzle the eyes of the unthinking; but the bubbles blown by un-scrupulous rogues, when full-blown, usually glitter only to burst. The Sadliers, Dean Pauls, and Redpaths, for the most part, come to a sad end even in this world; and though the successful swindles of others may not be " found out," and the gains of their roguery may remain with them, it will be as a curse and not as a blessing.
It is possible that the scrupulously honest man may not grow rich so fast as the unscrupulous and dishonest one; but the success will be of a truer kind, earned without fraud or injustice. And even though a man should for a time be unsuccessful, still he must be honest; better lose all and save character. For character is itself a fortune; and if the high-principled man will but hold on his way courageously, success will surely come, nor will the highest reward of all be withheld from him. Wordsworth well described the " Happy Warrior," as he
Who comprehends his trust, and to the same