Unlike the other framers of the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin grew up poor, as did steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Through shrewdness and hard work, both accumulated substantial fortunes. In 1790, Benjamin Franklin left a legacy to the citizens of Boston that Andrew Carnegie matched in 1906, leading to the founding of today’s Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. Mr. Carnegie accumulated a far greater fortune than he could ever use and sought—albeit unsuccessfully—to give it all away before he died.
Mr. Bill Cummings, in his largely autobiographical book Starting Small and Making It Big, traces his career starting in the 1950s as a young entrepreneur and eventually building his real estate business in the Boston suburbs into a billion dollar company. Like Franklin and Carnegie who started life poor, he grew up in a Depression era family where hard work and frugality were critical to survival and whose values he holds to this day.
In striving to accumulate as much money as he could to give it away, Mr. Carnegie was ruthless with his employees, slashing wages and crushing strikes. Unlike Mr. Carnegie, however, Mr. Cummings has built his business by realizing that dedicated employees are his most valuable asset. He seeks to ascertain and play to the strengths of each employee. The result is a happy, highly productive, and loyal workforce.
Mr. Cummings offers wise guidance to beginning entrepreneurs, much of it echoing themes of Benjamin Franklin. Be prepared for hard work, love the business, act with integrity, seek out and take advantage of opportunities, even if they sometime involve risk, listen thoughtfully, and save. Share prosperity with the communities where the wealth is derived.
Like Mr. Carnegie, Mr. Cummings, having accumulated more wealth than he can ever use himself, has with his wife Joyce established the Cummings Foundation. Funneling profits from his real estate holdings into the Foundation, he now concentrates on how best to give away his money. Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, a 2016 recipient of the Cummings Foundation’s $100K for 100 grant program, employs his largesse to fund BFIT’s Early Access to College dual enrollment and career exploration program for Boston youth. Mr. Cummings advocates “giving until it feels good.” He appears a very happy man.
Chris Morss (pictured at top of article) is a BFIT Trustee and retired educator. Above: BFIT graduate Lorenzo Harper '18 holds a copy of Cummings's book.