Hamiltonian Keys to Business Success

That fella on the $10 bill can teach you what to do — and what to avoid. Hint: No dueling.

You are $1.54 billion in debt. One-half of your board is attempting an unfriendly management buyout, while the other half wants to move headquarters from Philadelphia to the banks of the Potomac. The second-largest revenue stream has dried up due to a customer boycott, and your most feared competitor has threatened you with a duel to the death. What do you do?


This isn’t a hypothetical. One man, Alexander Hamilton, creator of the original New Economy, father of our first economy, dealt successfully with these issues (except maybe for the duel part). Why else would you find him on the $10 bill? This month, on July 11, we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Hamilton “interview” — the 19th-century term for illegal pistol dueling — with Aaron Burr. Hamilton lost and was mortally wounded within sight of New York City, the commercial capital. The nation’s first secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton created our national bank and public credit system. He coauthored the Federalist papers that envisioned our capitalist economic system. And he left us with seven keys to business success that are as applicable today as they were in 1804.

1. Play hardball Hamilton recommended sending a 12,000-man militia to quell protesters against the whiskey tax in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.
2. Turn competitors into allies through partnerships/mergers He aided rapprochement with Great Britain, supporting Jay’s Treaty, which eliminated British posts in the Old Northwest and defined U.S. trade to nearby British territories.
3. Trade ego for value in negotiations Hamilton got his wish for a national bank, and successfully got southern states to assume state debt, in return for moving the nation’s capital to the South.
4. Cash flow is king Whiskey Economics 101: Hamilton promoted the sale of whiskey. The government taxed it and filled coffers. It issued bonds. When bonds depreciated, people drank more.
5. Never apologize (Well, maybe occasionally) The “interview” with Burr, the vice president, resulted from Hamilton’s unwillingness to apologize for 15 years of criticism.
6. Surround yourself with talented medical — and spin — doctors Hamilton went to his fateful duel with his physician and personal assistant, who was there to be an eyewitness.
7. Don’t be impulsive. Avoid having a hair-trigger personality Hamilton’s hair-trigger pistol went off first, but inaccurately, during the duel.