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Internal Rate of Return and the Cultural Divide of Cash Flows

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Plus how John D. Rockefeller Jr. continues to exemplify success.

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What you're feeling when you visit Rockefeller Center is exactly what John Jr. wants you to feel -- yes, I'm saying that in the present tense, even though he's dead. He was one amazing guy, and his dazzling spirit is still with us, I fervently believe. Always helpful to start with a visual, so get a good gander of the following:



Check out that rounded collar. Just reeks of success, doesn't it? I wonder why they didn't snug their tie knots up the way we usually do today, but it's a nice look, isn't it? Something that says, I'm richer than all get-out but there's a hint of a rascal in me, even in an expensive suit. But those folded hands, framed by French cuffs fastened by no-doubt expensive yet not-at-all-ostentatious cufflinks -- not to mention those impossibly long fingers! -- bespeak at once something genetically unusual as well as piety.

That leaves the face. That face says it all. This was one serious man. That is the face of a man shaped by serious experience.

The rest of the photo: darkness. It's lonely at the top.

But let's flash back first, because that portrait above, taken in 1915 when he was 41 years old, came along later on. John Jr. was born in 1874 and died in 1960. He was the fifth and last child of John Senior (1839-1937), who, as you can tell by these numbers, lived to the ripe old age of 98, an amazing feat in 1937. I guess it takes that long to build something as big as Standard Oil, but it also means the old man was 35 upon Jr.'s arrival. So by just shy of the turn of the 20th century, when Jr. was graduating from Brown (having resisted heavy pressure to go to Yale) -- where, of all things, the greatest capitalist scion ever earned honors for, among other things, studying Karl Marx's Das Kapital -- young John was now a man of just 23 years and his father was approaching dotage.

In some ways, he wasn't any different from most of us. Imagine yourself coming out of college, a degree highlighted by revolutionary Marxist philosophy under your belt, and your dad isn't only the richest man alive, but the richest man ever, and single-handedly has the world's energy supplies by the short hairs in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, with Karl Marx in the philosophical avant-garde background, inciting revolt against the Robber Barons, and you're a bit of an expert on that subject. Not surprisingly, young John didn't have much of an interest in the family business (except indirectly and academically, maybe also as a sense of family obligation), as hard as that may be to believe now. Quite a bit to have on a young man's plate but, still, just like us. Would you want to be you, or just a piece of the brick and mortar -- and incredibly earth-encircling tentacles -- of Standard Oil?

Talk to Me, John Jr.!

Hey! I'm talking to you, capitalist spirit, falafel in hand, sitting among your greatest real-estate legacies crowned by 30 Rock, a gem among gems, a true mother in the Mother of the Arts: architecture! Who are you?! What did you think about?!

Well, young John, after all, was only a man like the rest of us so, yes, he did join the family business after graduating from Brown. But after 13 years of it -- consumed by an ever-growing feeling of immense responsibility he began to develop even as a child, that his calling was an undeniable moral obligation to put the family fortune to use for the greater good -- passion eventually took command of his destiny, and he walked away from those Standard Oil offices in 1910 solely for the purpose of distancing himself from that fortune. He called it purification. He felt deeply that the pure calling of philanthropy was otherwise sullied in the context of pure capitalism. Heavy stuff. The Industrial Revolution's secular moral equivalent of St. John the Divine, so to speak.

Then what? You might say the attempt to contemplate his moral and philosophical navel didn't last very long, and another seminal event took control. Historians dispute one another what John Jr. actually knew regarding the events that led up to the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, the culmination of labor unrest in a Colorado mining operation owned by the Rockefellers.

Twenty men, women, and children died in the violence of that incident. For John Jr., it was the transformational moment for which he believed God put him on Earth, and it defined the man he would be the rest of his life.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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