Greatest Hiring Managers: Andrew Carnegie

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By Jas Singh

As part of inspiring leaders on the power of hiring, I thought it might be useful to create a series on the best hiring managers of all time and see how they went about achieving worldwide success.

I thought I’d start with someone probably best described as less “fashionable”. Not as famous in today’s society compared to a Gates, Jobs or Branson. But arguably the first industrial leader and first philanthropist of them all. Andrew Carnegie.

Carnegie was the father of the global steel industry. A Scot, born in poverty he relocated to the US when a child – with virtually no formal schooling. Working from the bottom he became the most successful entrepreneur of his time – adjusted for inflation, his new worth at peak was around $300 billion which would make him four times richer than the richest man today. And virtually all of this wealth he gave away in philanthropy.

But perhaps even more impressive than all of this was how he actually achieved this. Carnegie self-confessed many times through his life that he knew very little about how to make steel and that his success was mainly due to the people he had hired. In fact Charles Schwab, one of Carnegie’s most famous lieutenants is often better recognised than Carnegie himself!

There are many great books written about Carnegie’s life and any leader who wishes to improve will find this reading valuable. Here are some of the reasons as to why he was such a great hiring manager:

 

1) Each business leader was an expert in one area

The Carnegie Steel Company at one point had 50 people in its management team, all reporting into Carnegie himself. That’s a large exec team – even by today’s standards! However the reason for this was that Carnegie believed that most people really excelled in one thing. He hired the best expert possible in any given area – even if he or she knew little else.

His personal strength was actually ensuring people worked together in a spirit of harmony and for a common purpose.

In fact, Charles Schwab was actually one of the first people in US history to be paid a million dollars by Carnegie, because of his sole ability to “arouse enthusiasm in his people”.

Kinda like a one word job description.

 

 

2) The one quality he never compromised on was co-operation

Andrew Carnegie was also the person who commissioned Napoleon Hill to write his world famous book “Think and grow rich“. In the book, Hill mentions that Andrew Carnegie was prepared to compromise on knowledge, skill, experience and even work ethic, but the one quality he never compromised on was “harmonious spirit”.

Carnegie realised that teams are more powerful than any individual and only hired people who made others feel inspired.

 

3) He hired ambitious people

Carnegie was one of the most forward thinkers of his time and one of the fathers of modern mass production. Yet unlike many leaders, he didn’t see himself as the one who would make all the big decisions and welcomed people who even challenged him.

So much so, that even the sale of his steel empire to create the newly formed US Steel Corporation was driven by an idea that had been created by his very own right hand man Charles Schwab. Although resistant to sell to Wall Street initially, Carnegie listened to Schwab’s grand idea and agreed selling his business was the right thing to do. Effectively allowing Schwab to put Carnegie into retirement!

It takes a great leader to hire people who they know will challenge themselves.

4) He watched more than he listened

One of my favourite quotes of Carnegie is “As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”

Often hiring is viewed as a competition. The most convincing, or most likeable or most knowledgeable candidate wins. Great interviewers talk well and often we are inclined to believe them.

Carnegie observed. He was constantly interested his existing staff and challenged them before giving them full-time responsibility. And for new hires he made sure he set them challenges and saw them in “action” before offering them a job.

 

Conclusion

Although he had his critics, Andrew Carnegie was undoubtedly a great hiring manager. Many biographers of his life even believe his ability hire well was the biggest factor in his success.

His plan was simple, short, but effective. A plan that worked.

Next time your hiring, what will your plan be?

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