Big Men of Business - Part I

  • 3 min read

Bit of a History lesson for you: throughout the course of human history, bigness has always been equated with power. Indeed, in a tribe, the name ‘Big Man’ is used to refer to a highly influential male (especially in Polynesia). There are two main reasons why men with larger physical presence are traditionally thought of as more powerful leaders. One is fighting ability. The other is their ability to procure sufficient sustenance, a key sign of status and wealth in traditional communities. And a recent study has shown that being big in business carries much of the same symbolism and payoffs for big men.

Looking at the size of men’s faces, researchers from the University of California found that men with wider faces could negotiate better for themselves (to the tune of $3,000) as compared to more narrow-faced men.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some significantly proportioned men of business and how they used their status to make a mark on society.

Big Man Industrialist: Leland Stanford

big man business 

Leland Stanford would never be seen in public without a suit

America in the 1800s was in the midst of the Golden Age of Capitalism. It was a period of fiercely competitive industrial barons slugging it out for a monopoly share of the country’s burgeoning economy and infrastructure. However, one big man rose to prominence due to his nous for wrangling lucrative deals.

Indeed, after becoming Governor of California in 1861, Stanford used his political office to facilitate a very lucrative deal for his railroad company, Central Pacific Railroad. Making sure they won the tender to build part of the First Transcontinental Railroad, he gained public funding and kept all of the profits! No wonder he is considered one of history’s great robber barons.  

Stanford’s shrewdness in business netted him a massive fortune. Stanford flaunted his wealth by spending up big on the finer things of life, such as buying a couple of wineries as well as a horse ranch. However, it took a tragedy to convince him to spend his money to help others. In 1884, after his teenage son died of typhoid, Stanford invested heavily in founding one of the America’s most renowned universities, Stanford, in his memory.

Style: Suits

Big Man Miner: Nathan Tinkler

big man business

Described as the 'Boganaire', ex-mining magnate Nathan Tinkler is hell bent on making a come back

Nathan Tinkler’s life story is a tale of going from rags to riches and back again. The former apprentice electrician went from living on struggle street, to owning luxury mansions, private jets, football teams and race horses in the space of a few short years. In 2006 Tinkler managed to scrape together $1 million by borrowing against the family home and bringing in investors. He then used this as a deposit to buy a coal deposit in central Queensland.

Just over 12 months later, the big guy sold his share of the coal deposit for $275 million. He parlayed that profit into another mining venture that would ultimately net him in excess of $440 million. Not a bad return for a $1 million punt!

However, being declared Australia’s youngest billionaire (in 2011) seemingly wasn’t enough for the big guy. With his penchant for investing hundreds of millions into horse racing as well as buying footy teams, Tinkler’s fortune quickly evaporated. By 2016, the big man was declared bankrupt.

However, these days it seems the big man is on the rise yet again. Watch this space for more news on that front.

Style: Business Wear

So, there you have it. Two very different big men of business who hail from different time periods and different industries. However, they do share much in common. Both big men were not afraid of having a go. They didn’t let life’s setbacks stand in the way. As big men, we too can take life by the horns. We too can learn the art of the deal. After all, if history is anything to go by, we are already well-endowed in this area.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of Big Men of Business when we look at a big man New York City property developer as well as a modern day robber baron.

By Anthony Cheadle