What My Father’s Early Departure Taught Me About Business

In many ways, I didn’t have a typical upbringing. When I was fifteen years old, my father passed away suddenly presumably after a stroke.

He had no life insurance or savings that could support his five children or widowed wife. For several months we lived relying heavily on our family’s and community support and for many years my mother struggled to put food on our table.

I’ve often reflected on what my life would have been like had my father lived, how different it would have been for me, my siblings and my mother who sacrificed much to be sure we did not go without. While I certainly was sad my father was not around, in some ways I felt my life was easier because with little or no choice left I had to suddenly grow up.

My dad’s business and entrepreneurial aspirations had a lasting and (I would like to think) positive impact on me. In my business, as in my life, when I find myself in a conundrum, I often default to asking, “What would my dad do?” Inevitably, I will recall one of these lessons:

1. Quit complaining. Complaining solves absolutely nothing. In fact, more times than not, it just compounds the problem. My dad was the most optimistic person I know, never uttering a negative thing about anyone or complaining about his work.

He always stayed neutral whenever any of my  four sisters would pick up a fight and had a generous helping of affection for everyone.

2. Appreciate what you have. One does not make a fortune fixing other people’s roofs for a living, though my dad always seemed to appreciate trivial things that made him happy. More importantly, his way of being made me realize that moments and all successes be it small or big are to be cherished, a sense of gratitude I still carry with me today.

3. Make time for those you love. It did not matter how many hours of sleep my dad had or how exhausted he might be, in our household he was the first one of his feet doing the morning shopping and preparing breakfast no matter how little time he had for us for the rest of the day. He always made sure we had food in our stomachs.

What I learnt from this experience is that there will always be time for work, but rarely time for others, and that when we die, we will not regret spending too little time at the office.

4. Give more than you take. My dad helped everyone, often at the expense of his business. I can remember when he was repairing a roof for an elderly lady and would then charge her less because of her advanced age.

Even at a young age, I understood that if you run a business, you should charge people money for what you do. He always made it known, however, that little displays of kindness go much further than nickel-and-diming people. Later, I understood this more, it was all about word of mouth recommendations.

5. Wake up early. My dad rarely slept in. Regardless of when he went to bed, he was always up before us. He was typically engaged in some household chore before he went to do some work. By doing so he made sure he was home by evening to spend time with his family.

6. Nurture close relationships. My dad did not have a great number of friends, but the ones he did have been around for as long as I remember. I learned from him that you should never take your closest colleagues or best friends for granted. They require just as much attention and respect as your family. Even years after his departure they still speak of him affectionately.

7. Keep your mind sharp. For as long as I can remember, my dad read books and newspapers to stay up-to-date and keep his mind sharp. When I was still a kid he would read us bedtime stories. The benefits of taking care of your mind, starting at an early age, are undoubtedly clear.

My dad and I share a similar background. We both graduated from a university but went on to start a business in fields not related to our degree. Neither of us had any experience in the industries or businesses we started, and for the most part, we both have had a bit of success in our entrepreneurial endeavors.

The difference is that I had my dad as a role model, and he had nobody — which in my mind makes his courage and accomplishments much more admirable.

Do you have a similar story? Please share with others in the comments section below. 

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