By Brad Shorr , Forbes Contributor
JUNE 15, 2014 – Happy Father’s Day! If you are a father, you know what a tough job it is; one that requires a man to be firm and forgiving, subtle and direct, hard-driving and patient, serious and lighthearted — pretty much all at the same time.
Every day I think about my dad, mainly because he was a great father and I loved him, but also because he shared superb advice on how to handle my daily business problems — especially the ones that had either no solution or a hundred solutions. He was extremely successful in business, and luckily I had the good fortune to spend many years learning from him. Here are a few of his most important business lessons.
Always treat people with respect. Dad was always a gentleman, giving you his full attention in any conversation, and giving full consideration to your point of view in any disagreement. As a result, even when business associates did not get what they wanted, they walked away knowing they were treated fairly and honestly. Over the years, I saw how this dynamic built unshakable loyalty and confidence in employees, suppliers, and customers.
Be a tough negotiator. Being a gentleman is good — so long as you don’t confuse it with being a softy. Dad was not inclined to let someone get the better of him in a negotiation, even if that meant walking away from the table or holding out when everybody else was caving in. By applying this attitude over and over, he won a little bit more here, and lost a little bit less there. Over time, these minor — and sometimes major — successes added up to a significant advantage over competitors.
Be a marketing liberal and a financial conservative. Dad was willing to try just about any sales or marketing idea, no matter how creative, as long it was well reasoned. At the same time, he ran finances with an iron fist — minimal borrowing, careful credit policies, tight receivables, etc. Aggressive marketing combined with careful financial management led to controlled innovation that fueled dynamic growth and profitability. His was the perfect recipe for success. Innovation without control can bankrupt a small business in a matter of months; solid financial management without innovation leads to a death by a thousand cuts.
Challenge yourself. Leadership consultants always advise bosses to challenge their staff … but how many tell bosses to challenge themselves? On that score, my dad never pushed anyone harder than he pushed himself, business-wise or otherwise. He poured over the minutiae of the business until he understood it inside and out. In his 50s, he decided to learn French and in short order was reading Flaubert in the original language. Well into his 60s, he led the charge in developing the company website and digital marketing strategy. Being a slacker around someone like that is almost impossible.
There are thousands of ways to be a great father, and just as many business lessons to be learned from one. What have you learned from your father about running a successful business?