While working as a railroad agent in Redwood, Minnesota, Richard Sears discovered that he could order watches from a manufacturer, ship them to agents down the line, and have them sold to local customers at a handsome profit.

Soon thereafter, Sears eliminated the middle-men by launching a mail-order company, which, by 1894, had become Sears Roebuck & Co., with its massive 300-page catalog.

The business was a remarkable success. (According to a 1900 survey, Americans rated the Sears catalog among their favorite books -- second only to the Bible.) In fact, orders began rolling in faster than Sears could process them.

His solution? He simply burned a batch of order forms whenever he fell too far behind.

[Julius Rosenwald, a brilliant manager, later introduced some much-needed changes, and by 1908, Sears himself was out of the picture.]

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