Robert Owen - Success and Business
Robert Owen (1771-1858)
Welsh businessman (pictured right) who treated his employees incredibly well at his cotton mill in New
Lanark, near Glasgow, Scotland
Why was he successful?
When he arrived at New Lanark (pictured right) in 1800 as manager and part owner, he was determined to
improve mill workers’ terrible working conditions.
500 of the 2,000 workforce were children brought at the age of five or six from the poorhouses and charities of
Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Sanitation was poor, and most families lived in only one room.
- greatly improved their houses, and the treatment of children,
particularly their education (see point 4).
- dramatically reduced people’s daily hours to eight, because “every person is entitled to
education, recreation and sleep”, he said.
2. Profit through people
He proved that treating employees well will increase profits by encouraging them to work harder.
“Happiness is achieved by the union and co-operation of all for the benefit of each”, he
3. The father of the co-operative movement
When he was at New Lanark, many other employers paid their workers in part, or totally, by
tokens which they had to spend at the factory owner’s ‘truck’ shop with high prices and low
quality (eventually banned by the Truck Acts).
Instead Owen founded the first co-operative shop which sold to his employees goods of good
quality at little more than cost, passing on the price discounts from bulk purchases.
“Man is the creature of circumstances”, he said i.e. people’s lives and health are determined
by their wealth, upbringing and state of mind.
So he valued education very highly, particularly of children. He was:
- the founder of infant schools in Britain.
- keen to improve people’s moral education and personal
responsibility, closely supervising the sale of alcohol in his shop .
5. Equal rights for everyone
Owen (pictured right in 1845) believed that everyone should have the same rights to liberty, education and
health, including women, who should no longer be “the slaves of, or dependent upon, men”, he
He has inspired future generations by his compassion for working people, despite leaving New Lanark in 1825
after disagreements with the other owners.
His communes in Orbiston, near Glasgow, and New Harmony, Indiana (USA), also
failed due to the lack of private property and individual freedom.
“I have been ahead of my time”, he said on his deathbed.
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The lowest stage of humanity is explained when the individual must labour for a small pittance of wages from
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Happiness is achieved by the union and co-operation of all for the benefit of each
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Man is the creature of circumstances.
Key quote on education and
To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every
other will be subordinate.
Key quote on the past, present and
I have been ahead of my time.
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To preserve permanent good health, the state of mind must be taken into consideration.