What is an ambitious man without resources?

Image of WR Hearst

I just finish reading the biography of William Randolph Hearst (WR. Hearst) by Ben Procter entitled the Early Years 1863-1910. Having visited the Hearst Castle outside San Luis Obispo, CA a few years back, I have been curious as to whom the man was that had built such a grand estate?  What was his background? What challenges or obstacles had he overcome? Was he born from privilege?  What principles did he embrace that propelled him to success? Who were his role models?  I must say that I had learned a lot about William Randolph Hearst this weekend.  Now, I would like to share my perspective.

William was an only child. His father, George Hearst, had accumulated a substantial fortune from cooper mining, gold mining, silver mining and real-estate. His father’s wealth afforded William the opportunity to have an uncommon, yet very privileged, childhood. As a child William essentially got whatever he wanted.  William’s mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, was not the kind to discipline William and his father was rarely home; consequently, this “spare the rod” disciplinarian style enabled William to grow up in a world of entitlements.  As a child and later as a teenager, he had travel the world, mostly Europe, with his mother for months.  This experience undoubtedly expanded his mind and worldview to see not just how people in other parts of the world lived but also to see and live history up and close. I would suspect that it also impressed upon William all that was possible to achieve when a person has the means (i.e., wealth) to achieve. William also had the best tutors money could buy. He also attended a private school as a teenage and then eventually Harvard University.  Despite never really accomplishing anything significant as a child or youth, William’s  background, education, experiences and world travels prepared him to be the man that he eventually would become, owner and builder of the largest chain of newspapers and magazines in the world.

William Randolph Hearst would develop a love for newspaper and journalism early after Harvard. He would convince his father through relentless persuasion to give him the Examiner newspaper which William would turn around to become the top newspaper in readership and circulation on the West Coast. William would later duplicate this success with the New York Journal on the East Coast. Over the next 20+ years, he would build the largest media empire with 28 newspapers with a readership of 2 million a day and 10 magazines.   William would attempt to make a name for himself in politics. Unlike his successes with the newspaper, he would, however, encounter failure after failure with one exception being that he had won two terms as a US House of Representative.   William lost the New York Mayoral Bid, his New York Gubernatorial bid, his bid to become the Democratic Nominee for President, and his quest to successfully establish a third party in the American Political System.  Yet these failures did not stop him from achieving more in the newspaper and magazine worlds, in movie production and in the collection of art.  Be that as it may, what are some of the lessons that a person can take from William Randolph Hearst’s life?

When William decided that he had found his calling; that is, he wanted to be in the newspaper business, he dedicated himself to learning everything that he could about the business from the ground up. William studied the business. He spoke with many influential folks that were in the newspaper business with the goal of increasing his own knowledge and expertise. He had a mentor in Ballard Smith, the editor of the World who essentially showed him the ends and outs of the newspaper business.  William was relentless in his quest to obtain the Examiner from his father. He would decline many of his father’s offers to run other businesses or do something else with his life.  William would not be deterred from his goal. When he finally gained control of the Examiner, William wasted no time in radically changing the way the paper looked and how it did business.  This was easy for him to do because for the past 4 or so years, William had been working on a makeover plan on just how the Examiner would and could be better. When he got his opportunity, he was clearly prepared.  William would turn out to be a savvy business man, masterful at promotion and salesmanship. He revealed that he was an astute student of journalism with the insight and ambition to create and deploy different strategies of which revolutionized not just the Examiner but journalism forever. William knew how to recruit the best talent so that he had one of the top teams on journalism. Hearst would repeat this formula for success many times over during his long and lustrous career in which he acquired and built newspapers after newspapers.

While his successes were unmatched by anyone else of his time, it must be noted that William Randolph Heart was able to accomplish it all on the backs of his father’s and mother’s enormous wealth. How long would he have been able to run a newspaper that was not earning revenue while at the same time spending millions on talent acquisition? Would he has been able to hire the best team if he has been concerned about costs? How long would he have been able to run such lavish promotions, subsidizing yearly subscriptions, sponsoring huge give always, and buying the best printing machines in the business? How long would he have been able to accomplish these feats if he had to think about costs and where the money was going to come from?  All of these lead to a dubious question.  How much success would William Randolph Hearst have achieved if he did not have an open “money purse”?  That is a constant access to capital from either his parents?  I read somewhere that a man with ambition but without resources is like a car that is fully fueled but lacking wheels. It will get no way fast.  This was clearly not the case for William Randolph, he had the ambition (the fuel) and the resources (the wheels) to go very far, very fast.

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