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The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators

By Edwin A. Locke


Updated second edition

What enables the "Prime Movers"—businessmen like Andrew Carnegie, James Hill, Bill Gates—to create wealth on such a vast scale?

To answer this question, Dr. Locke identifies the essential psychological traits of these and other great businessmen from the 19th and 20th centuries. In this book, he notes, "we can see efficacious people at work, people who use their own independent judgment and who—through passion, tenacity, and ability—succeed against all odds."

Rather than offering an unintegrated series of biographical sketches, The Prime Movers is organized thematically. Chapter headings focus on particular characteristics: independent vision; an active mind; competence and confidence; drive to action; egoistic passion; love of ability in others.

A recurring cast of successful businessmen serves to illustrate these traits. We learn about innovators like Michael Dell, who envisioned the idea of low-cost, high-quality computers marketed directly to consumers. It was Walt Disney's passion for animation, writes Locke, that drove him to work 20-hour days. Pierre DuPont prized human ability so highly that he bought up other companies solely to acquire their talented employees.

The Prime Movers is not only an examination of the psychological traits of great businessmen, but a moral defense of wealth creation. It points out that many of these Prime Movers (implicitly) embrace the virtues of rationality, productiveness, honesty, egoism and integrity. Rejecting the ubiquitous claims of their denouncers, Dr. Locke argues that these prodigious wealth-creators are not exploitative "fat-cats" who get rich at someone else's expense; on the contrary, they are men of virtue—if the term is properly understood. They are, he writes, "neither blind emotionalists nor emotionless rationalists. They are passionate lovers of their work and of success, who use reason to guide their choices and actions." (Dr. Leonard Peikoff's speech "Why Businessmen Need Philosophy" is included as an appendix to this book.)

This book, which draws on a number of Dr. Locke's lectures, is full of heroic personalities and valuable guidance. Whether you are curious about "How to Make a Billion Dollars" (as one chapter title puts it), or are a hero-worshipper who admires giants of human ability, this book is an inspiring read.

Table of Contents



1: The Creation of Wealth

Reason; Rights; Technology; The Relationship between Freedom and Wealth; Economic and Political Freedom; Prime Movers; The Traits; Conclusion

2: Independent Vision

What Is Vision?; Myopic Visions; The Danger of Experts; Visions as Evolutionary; Vision Communication; Independent Visions; Visionaries and Their Companies; Conclusion

3: An Active Mind

Thinking; Volition; Reality; Intuition; Active Minds at Work; How Do Active Minds Go "Bad"?; Conclusion

4: Competence and Confidence

Competence and Learning; Confidence; Prime Abilities; Risk; Reaching Beyond One's Grasp; Overconfidence; Fear of Failure; Conclusion

5: The Drive to Action

Action; Prime Movers in Action; Actions off Course; Drive; When Is Enough, Enough?; Conclusion

6: Egoistic Passion

Counterfeit Egoism; True (Rational) Egoism; Prime Movers at Work; Egoism
and "The Public Interest"; The Prime Mover's Attitude toward Himself; Passion and Reason; Conclusion

7: Love of Ability in Others

Business and Friendship; Prime Movers as Ability Lovers; Falls from Grace; The Role of the Individual in an Age of Groupism; Conclusion

8: Virtue

Values; Egoism; Rationality; Independence; Productiveness; Honesty; Integrity; Justice; Virtues as Guiding Corporate Principles: BB&T; The Evil of Initiating Force; Conclusion

9: How to Make a Billion Dollars

Other Traits; Male and Female; Strategy; Management; The Success
Quartet; Business and Religion; Giving Back; Antitrust; Inequality; Greed; Hatred of the Good

Appendix A. Amounts of Wealth Created by (Selected) Prime Movers Mentioned in This Book

Appendix B. "Why Businessmen Need Philosophy" by Leonard Peikoff

Index of Company Names, Subjects, and Terms

Index of Names


"The Prime Movers gives us a wonderful philosophy of living and being
successful in the business world. More than a book about business, it is also about treating people honestly and fairly in an ethical environment. If you study Dr. Locke's seven traits of the great wealth creators, you may not become a billionaire, but I promise that you will
be a better manager, a better business leader, and a better person."
—F. Kenneth Iverson, Chairman Emeritus, Nucor Corporation


"Dr. Locke's survey is as unique as the subjects he studies. Guided by an objective standard for gauging productive prowess, he identifies a handful of the most crucial personality traits held in common by history's greatest business creators and leaders. We learn what's never yet been taught about the productive giants of yesterday and today. Better still, we're given a reality-based, time-tested, and objective yardstick for identifying the giants of tomorrow. This books deserves the rapt attention of entrepreneurs, business leaders, board members, venture capital firms, executive recruiters, and business students."
—Richard M. Salsman, President, InterMarket Forecasting, Inc.

"Finally, someone has identified what it truly takes to become a Sam Walton, Mary Kay Ash, or Bill Gates. Edwin Locke inductively builds his
case for the seven core traits of such Prime Movers, and pulls no punches along the way. Want to know how to become a billionaire? Study this book and see if you have the right stuff."
—Tom Becker, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Management, University of Delaware

"Edwin A. Locke, an internationally known scholar in the behavioral sciences, has applied his extensive knowledge of philosophy, psychology, and business history to explain what makes great wealth creation possible. Especially interesting to me was his observation that love of one's work and the setting of specific, high goals firmly grounded in reality were key factors in enabling individuals to become Prime Movers in the world of business. An extraordinary piece of work that should be read by every person in the field of  business."

—Gary P. Latham, Secretary of State Professor of Organizational
Effectiveness, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto