The expression “Father knows best” probably came before the TV show of the same name. But I could be wrong. I always thought that Yogi Berra was a nickname based on the cartoon character, but now I am pretty sure it was the other way around.
The subject of fatherly advice came to me this week as I listened to a presentation by a guest speaker, a well-known wine maker, at a Toronto client dinner hosted by JC Clark Investments.
I was invited to the dinner by the good folks at JC Clark as their guest despite not yet being a client of theirs. Not only that, I was lucky enough to be seated next to the speaker during dinner, and learned a good deal about the art and science of vinification.
Our speaker talked at length about the way he got where he is today, which was by no means a straight line, and how many times he relied on the same pieces of advice that he had received from his father.
His Dad had counselled him to always learn from the best, and to never be afraid to ask for help. He related a handful of occasions when these principles helped him make key advances in his career.
This also had me flash back to a time about a decade ago, when I was watching the stock market on a daily basis, and therefore also reading publications directed at investors like myself.
My favourite read was Richard Russell’s Dow Theory Letters. He was already well into his 80’s when I discovered him, and I can’t tell you how often he related the story about how he got started in finance.
His father, he repeated often, told him to go work for the banks. When he asked “why?” his Dad replied, “Because that’s where the money is”. This man then spent over 6 decades of his career based on some early key fatherly advice.
These days I have been putting some of my father’s advice into practice, and interestingly enough, there are some similarities with his words of wisdom and those of the speaker’s dad.
I recall when we went from being a steel fabricator that sent almost all of its finished products out to others to be hot-dip glavanized, to Dad’s ambitious move to design and build our own in-house galvanizing facility.
Steel fabrication is something he knew well, having apprenticed in that in Austria as a teenager. But setting up a plant around a huge tank to melt zinc (to over 800 degrees) to then dip the finished pieces of steel into a bath of liquid zinc was quite another endeavour.
One of his first moves was to join the American Hot Dip Galvanizers Association, an organization that connected him to many experts who knew the field much better than him, and he in turn learned from some of the best.
This idea of collaborating, getting help from others and in turn sharing knowledge with a larger group was something that came naturally to him.
I have followed that path myself over recent years. Just because I had worked in my own family’s business, did that automatically make me qualified to consult to other families in business? Some people do just that, but for me it was not nearly enough.
I have joined the Family Firm Institute, the Purposeful Planning Institute, the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, and of course the Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors. In addition, I have taken courses in conflict resolution, coaching, and Bowen family systems theory.
Dad’s advice has been serving me well recently.
You may not have noticed that the men in the stories above were all following their fathers’ advice in situations where Dad had nothing personal to gain from their sons’ actions.
Unfortunately, in business families, there are still too many occasions where Dads (and Moms) give their children advice, but in many ways that advice is self-serving.
“Go find something you love to do” and “come and work for me, you will love it” may sound similar to the person speaking, but to the listener there is a huge difference.