In a 1901 interview, entrepreneur Marshall Field talked to a reporter about what he considered the key aspects to his tremendous success. This merchant of worldwide fame was not easily accessible for interviews and never seeked fame for his business achievements. However, his story proved to be of great inspiration and encouragement for generations to come.
He was born in Conway, Massachusetts, in 1835. His father had a farm among the rocks and hills and the land was not very fertile. His mother was more intellectually inclined. According to him, both parents were anxious for their children to achieve something in life and their interest and affection were vital for this matter.
While growing up, he didn’t have access to many books. He became interested in business and started on them as soon as he could. He claimed to be a natural saver. Those were saving times. One dollar seemed a lot to them at that time, and since it was difficult to earn, they wouldn’t spend it quickly. However, he was determined not to remain poor.
Field was homeschooled until high school, and he didn’t have a university education. He left home at 17 and certainly didn’t have time to study as well as he would’ve wanted.
His first business venture was as a clerk in a store in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where many goods were sold, including textiles. He worked there for four years and had his first true approach to the business world.
He saved his earnings and dealt strictly with the business, so those four years were really valuable to him. He had always been interested in the business side of life, so he dedicated his energies to this and always knew he wanted to be a merchant.
Later, in Chicago, he worked as a clerk at Cooley, Wadsworth & Co. in South Water Street. The chances of greatness for the town were barely visible back then. In 1860, he was made partner, and in 1865 there was a partial reorganization and the company was formed with Mr. Leiter and Mr. Palmer. Two years later Mr. Palmer resigned and until 1881 the signing of the company was Field, Leiter & Co. Mr. Leiter retired that year and then the company became Marshall Field & Co.
Something that contributed deeply to the growth of Field’s business was the fact that he truly believed that here were things to learn about the country, and whoever learned faster would get more.
Some of the principles that he applied to his business were, for instance, his insistence that all products should be exactly what they represented to be. All items sold must be considered guaranteed and the buyer has to feel safe with his purchase.
When asked about an aspect of his character that he considered essential to his career, he was quick with an answer: “perseverance”. He claimed to have practiced this virtue, along with a good judgement, which earned him a lot.
Mr. Field always tried to do all his actions and trade movements as a result of a certain consideration and sound judgment. There were never any risks or great adventures. He practiced methods of honest business, with a slow growth, and tried to support them with energy and a good system.
The first prerequisite for success in life, he recommended, were the qualities of honesty, energy, frugality and integrity. Success -he believed- could not be achieved without them. The greatest thing a man can do, is to develop his powers to be more useful to humanity.
Throughout his successful life, Field was an active philanthropist. He donated land for the campus of the University of Chicago and funded the Field Museum of Natural History. He is often cited as the creator of the famous quote “The customer is always right”.
Field had a particular opinion about college education, given the fact that he himself had not lived the experience. When asked if he thought that young people would need it in the future, he stated: “not for business purposes”. He believed that, after four or so years of a college education, young people may not be fully prepared to face a life of hard work, thus resulting in a failure to perceive opportunities that would lead to a successful career.
He was interested in the world of business until the very end, when he passed away in 1906. The iconic Marshall Field and Company Building is a landmark that has been involved in many popular culture works and events. Marshall Field’s, the department store that became so successful in Chicago, was acquired by Macy’s on 2005.