Fayol was born in 1841 in a suburb of Constantinople (current Istanbul). His father (an engineer) was in the military at the time and was appointed superintendent of works to build Galata Bridge, which bridged the Golden Horn. The family returned to France in 1847, where Fayol graduated from the mining academy "École Nationale Supérieure des Mines" in Saint-Étienne in 1860.
In 1860 at the age of nineteen Fayol started working at the mining company named "" in Commentry as the mining engineer.
He was hired by Stéphane Mony, who had decided to hire the best engineers from the Saint-Étienne Mining School.
Fayol joined the firm as an engineer and trainee manager.
Mony made Fayol his protege, and Fayol succeeded him as manager of the Commentry Mine and eventually as managing director of Commentry-Fourchambault and Decazeville.
During his time at the mine, he studied the causes of underground fires, how to prevent them, how to fight them, how to reclaim mining areas that had been burned, and developed a knowledge of the structure of the basin. In 1888 he was promoted to managing director. During his time as director, he made changes to improve the working situations in the mines, such as allowing employees to work in teams, and changing the division of labor. Later, more mines were added to his duties.
In 1900 Fayol became a member of the Comité Central des Houillères de France, member of the board of the Comité des forges and administrator of the Société de Commentry, Fourchambault et Decazeville.
Eventually, the board decided to abandon its iron and steel business and the coal mines. They chose Henri Fayol to oversee this as the new managing director. Upon receiving the position, Fayol presented the board with a plan to restore the firm. The board accepted the proposal. When he retired in 1918, the company was financially strong and one of the largest industrial combines in Europe
Based largely on his own management experience, he developed his concept of administration. In 1916 he published these experience in the book Administration Industrielle et Générale, at about the same time as Frederick Winslow Taylor published his Principles of Scientific Management.