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“Every man who studies along the fine and broad lines of commercial enterprise today must recognize the fact that a business career is a profession as noble in its way as that of the lawyer or the engineer. Men and women must be trained for it.” – John Wanamaker.
Business may be not only a vocation in itself, but it necessarily enters into every other vocation, industry, and activity in the world. Agriculture, mining, manufacturing, law, medicine, engineering, teaching, art, etc., all have their business phases; and those engaged in these various occupations must know something of its transactions. Even the running of the Government, the presiding over a church, or the directing of a charitable institution call for a high order of business ability. So important has commerce become to the welfare of mankind that the transaction of its affairs has called for the entire time of a great body of workers. It has been found necessary to organize commerce into its various branches for convenience in operating. As a result a great many business vocations have been developed.
Branches of Business
In each branch of business there are many types of work: there is the managerial staff, the office force, the sales department, the credit department, etc., each calling for a special kind of training and experience. The young man entering business should first decide which business he wishes to engage in, then the branch of the service in which he desires to specialize, since just being a business man is very uncertain.
One of the most important and oldest branches of commerce is merchandizing. With the beginning of organized society there was need for barter in the commodities of life. Merchandizing has changed from primitive exchanging of goods to have highly specialized business organized into many departments. The country store, built at the crossroads and carried on as a side issue, is very simple and may be conducted without much regard to business principles. The modern specialized, or department, store such as those built up by Marshall Field in Chicago, John Wanamaker in Philadelphia and new York, and by timothy Eaton in Canada, require the highest organizing ability and closest application of business principles. The compensation obtained in selling goods depends largely on the individual; but the conditions under which eh works will in part determine his success. Very many who enter the field of merchandizing fail, and profits are probably no larger in proportion to the capital invested and the risk than in other kinds of business. One of the chief causes of failure is the carrying of too large a stock of goods which soon becomes “hard stock.” A comparatively small amount of capital tied up in goods that can be turned over rapidly, taken with a low overhead cost of operation, makes an ideal situation for the merchant.
The banking business is one that is often misunderstood by the “man on the street” who sometimes looks at the banker as a man of unlimited wealth whose chief duty is to hoard gold and make it difficult for the poor man to get a loan. As a matter of fact, the banker is a trustee, or steward of the funds of other people. He takes the surplus wealth of the community and diverts it into channels where it can be made to produce other wealth. He stands in the position of th servant who was given the talents. In order to be a good banker a person must have the confidence of the community. He should be systematic and orderly and able to make friends. He must have a broad insight into the different phases of business since his success depends largely on his ability to judge between various enterprises. His training should include fundamental knowledge of finance, economics, laws, agriculture, and in fact, every activity of man in anyway connected with business transactions. He must act as an adviser alike to the man seeking a good investment, and also to the man who wants capital to develop an industry. No way is open for a young man to succeed in banking without devoting much hard work to learning the business in all of its phases. He must know the grind of each stage of the work and he must not expect to become cashier or president without having first performed the humbler tasks in the bank. It usually requires many years to reach the cashier’s position.
The transportation enterprises are among the largest business activities in the world. Modern commerce depends for its very existence on the development of comparatively cheap transportation rates. When sugar had to be hauled in freight wagons from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, very little sugar was used, and when people had to depend on the stage coach and sailing boat to carry them, they traveled but little. Modern railroads, trolley systems, motor buses, steamship lines, and the more recently developed air service, comprise a business of gigantic proportions which offers good opportunities for young men of ability who are willing to work for a corporation, instead of for themselves, and who have the stability to work up gradually with an organization.
There are numerous other branches of business such as insurance, the telegraph and telephone service, advertising, real estate development, which offer opportunities for the man of the right personality and experience. Each of these has its own peculiar demands on those who choose it as a life’s occupation.
Honesty in Business
In reply to letters written to many prominent business men asking them for their opinion regarding desirable qualities for young men who wished to enter business, practically every correspondent placed honesty at the head of the list. This was not a matter of chance. The answer rested on a basic principle that has been proved by centuries of experience. Honesty is, if possible, more necessary in business than in many of the other walks of life, since commerce is based primarily on confidence. Mr. Babson in his Fundamentals of Prosperity gives many illustrations of the important relationship between honesty and business success,. Many dishonest schemes are forced on the business world, and many unprincipled men engage in commerce; but business in the main must be conducted “on the square” or it will not be successful.
Some people have the idea that if they are cunning they do not need to be honest, but their deception is usually discovered. This is illustrated by the story of two boys, James and Thomas, who lived in a small town. Both were very anxious to get a position in the town store. The merchant had both boys help him once in a while, but he had difficulty in deciding which one to employ permanently. He gave each of them a book, which he said he would be gld to have him read. After a week or two he asked the boys if they had read the book. Thomas said he had only found time to read one chapter. James, wanting to create a good impression, said that he had read his copy of the book through a number of times. He praised it in the highest terms and said that each evening before going to bed he spent some time studying its contents. This naturally pleased the merchant and he thought he was ready to decide on James for the position. Accordingly he went to James’ home to acquaint his parents with the opportunities he was going to offer their son, and was shown into the parlor to wait. Here he found lying on the table the book he had given, and to his great astonishment the leaves of the book had never been cut, showing that none of it had been read. When the parents came he simply told them that he would never be able to use their son again.
The author was very much impressed on one occasion by a conversation between the mother of a young man and his employer. In talking about how the young man was getting along the employer said: ‘Madam, your son is absolutely honest in all that he does, and I would trust everything I have in the world to his truthfulness.” Tears filled the mother’s eyes as she replied: “Your words make me the happiest woman in all the world.”
Training for Business
A young man may prepare himself for business in any one of a number of ways. At least a general education is indispensable, in order that he may meet other people intelligently. A high school and college education are becoming more and more necessary. Although many men who have had very little schooling have been successful in business, this is becoming more difficult every year. A few extra years spent in getting an education will bring big returns when the time comes to face the stern realities of life.
In learning the technical side of business, there is probably no better way than to work up in the business itself. Many successful men have begun as office boys and filled the various positions up to superintendent or manager, but advancement is likely to be much more rapid if the practical experience is supplemented by the right kind of school training.
Getting a Start
Those who are pessimistic often say that it is impossible to get into anything these days without a “pull.” As a matter of fact, the world has never been more willing than now to have a person pass on his merits. It is true that friends are an asset, and they may help a person to get an opportunity to prove himself; but unless he can “deliver the goods” all the help in the world will not make him a success. The outstanding business men of the generation are men who have hewn their way to success without special favors from anyone.
In business the only pull that amounts to anything is the work that can be done. The employer is not so much interested in family connections, the people one has met, or the books one has read, as in one’s ability to do work. In getting a start in business, the principal thing is to give one’s best effort to the work. The spirit of the true American youth may be expressed something like this: “All I want is a chance to show what I can do; I ask no favors nor special privileges, but I am anxious to get into the work and do my best. Place me at the bottom if you will, but watch me climb.”
1. Explain how a knowledge of the principles of business may help in all of the vocations.
2. Why should the mayor of a city, the governor of a state, or the president of the United States be a good business man?
3. Enumerate all of the kinds of business you can think of.
4. What are some of the qualities that should be possessed by a merchant?
5. Discuss the relation of banking to all other kinds of business.
6. Discuss the relation of adequate transportation to industrial development.
7. Give some reasons why every worker should carry life insurance.
8. Why is honesty the chief corner stone of business success?
9. Outline an ideal course of training for the various kinds of business.
10. How can a young man in your community get started in business the best way?