The Men Who Built America Course
The excellent new series from the History Channel has generated a lot of interest in The Tycoon Playbook. I started working on the Playbook back in late 2007 with the intention of creating a 400 to 500 page manual on how to buy small businesses. I then quickly decided to make it more interesting by adding in actionable tactics and strategies from the self-made tycoons of the past 160 or so years. This swelled up the course to almost 900 pages of actionable details.
History Channel’s The Men Who Built America
I have a few minor quibbles with this otherwise excellent series on the growth strategies of America’s greatest tycoons.
So far I have seen the first three episodes and will most definitely catch the fourth when it airs next week. This series indicates a possible change in direction for the History Channel. If it truly is returning to serious history, then I welcome the move. All the emphasis of recent years on space aliens was a turn off for me.
My only real criticism of the show is the way they shoe-horned so many celebrities into the first episode for quick sound-bytes. Couldn’t Donald Trump use a rest by now? I would certainly hope so. To be clear, I enjoy hearing from the historians and biographers of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt as they have interesting insights to add. In contrast, I was rather shocked to see Carly Fiorina, one of the very worst CEOs in history, appear for a couple of soundbites in the third episode. This is the woman who single-handedly destroyed a great American company and Silicon Valley icon. I refer to Hewlett-Packard, of course.
The Small Business Growth Strategies of Tycoons
Let’s get down to how tycoons make money in the deal-maker’s game of buying and selling companies. The big pay day comes when a company is finally sold. To sell a company at a profit requires that you increase its value while it’s in your possession. (Value creation is an ongoing topic in this course.) Increasing value entails growing the business to increase its value. In other words, you want to “fatten up the hog for market,” as they say in the agricultural industry.
Let’s take a look at why bigger is better when it comes to business.
John Malone Overtakes Ted Turner as America’s Largest individual Land Owner
Both of these men are on my list of top tycoons to study. Both competed and collaborated for decades in the cable-TV industry where they did deals both big and small. Malone is typical of the men covered in The Tycoon Playbook. They all had the patience and discipline to start off small and build an empire one step at a time. Malone earned a Ph.D. in operations research from Johns Hopkins in the late 1960s and then joined General Instruments Corp., which was part of the cable-TV industry. After quickly becoming dissatisfied with the company’s management he took a major gamble by quitting and moving to Denver where he accepted a 50% pay cut for the privilege of working for a startup teetering on bankruptcy owned by a Bob Magness. The company was Tele-Communications Inc., which later was renamed TCI.
Fast Growth Strategies Should Focus on Megatrends
One of the most important differences between ordinary entrepreneurs and tycoons is what they focus on. The former tend to concentrate on niche opportunities while the latter often look for a megatrend to jump on. To get you started thinking more like a tycoon take a look at these two articles on megatrends and ask yourself how you might capitalize on them.