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Master Class

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This story appears in the February 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

After studying 1,000 of the last century's topentrepreneurs, managers and leaders, Harvard professors NitinNohria and Anthony Mayo credited these paragons' prominence toa combination of who they were and the times they operated in.In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of theTwentieth Century (Harvard Business School Press, $35)details how the personal idiosyncrasies of leaders from Henry Fordto Sam Walton combined with their particular eras to create epochaleconomic success.

A Ford quote summarizes the authors' premise: "Had Iworked 50 or 10 or even five years before, I would havefailed." They buttress their case for the importance ofcircumstance with tales of entrepreneurs like Clarence Saunders,who revolutionized retail with his Piggly Wiggly self-servicegroceries, then failed repeatedly and disastrously with otherconcepts that were too advanced for his time. To be like Ford andunlike Saunders, study business history and learn what worked inthe past. Read voraciously and travel widely to stay on top ofregulatory, technological and political trends. In short, to masterthe present, think hard about both the future and the past.

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