- Father’s Day has arrived in the United States.
- Dads love to give advice. And, sometimes, it turns out to be pretty great advice.
- Check out these insights from the fathers of people who went on to succeed in business.
Father’s Day is here in the US. Time to contemplate everything your dad has done for you – and maybe even reflect on his advice and insight.
You never know. Your dad’s classic mantra might turn out to be words to live by. Plenty of famous success stories have had great results with taking such paternal gems to heart.
In honour of Father’s Day, we’ve collected the best advice super-successful business leaders ever got from their dads.
Here’s the fatherly wisdom:
Meg Whitman: Be nice
While “be nice” may sound like a platitude, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO said it’s some of the most important advice she ever got.
“I’ll never forget my father telling me that,” Whitman recalled in Fortune in 2005. “I had been mean to someone. He said, ‘There is no point in being mean to anyone at any time. You never know who you’re going to meet later in life. And by the way, you don’t change anything by being mean. Usually you don’t get anywhere.'”
T. Boone Pickens: Have a plan
The chairman of BP Capital Management was a student at Oklahoma State when his dad arrived on campus for his fraternity initiation – and delivered a life-changing message.
“A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan any day,” he told Pickens. “And your mother and I think we have a fool with no plan. We think you’re wasting your time here in Stillwater. You’re not getting anywhere.”
His dad was right, Pickens wrote on LinkedIn in 2014. “I had to admit I wasn’t burning up the place.” But within a month of that visit, everything changed. He picked a track and switched his major. “I got a plan,” he says, “and I’ve had one ever since.”
Bill Gates: Do what you’re not good at
These days, the former Microsoft CEO and his lawyer father give each other advice as cochairs of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but back in the day, the elder Gates was the one doling out counsel to his son.
The most important lesson Gates ever learned from his dad? Invest in things – even if you’re not good at them.
In a 2009 conversation with Fortune, he recalled that both his parents encouraged him to “to go out for a lot of different sports like swimming, football, soccer,” he says. “At the time I thought it was kind of pointless, but it ended up really exposing me to leadership opportunities and showing me that I wasn’t good at a lot of things, instead of sticking to things that I was comfortable with.”
His father agrees that those early forced softball team memberships seem to have worked out ok. “Apparently it turned out to be good advice.”
Indra Nooyi: Assume positive intent
The PepsiCo president and CEO got a piece of advice from her dad that changed the way she approached the world. “Whatever anybody says or does,” he told her, “assume positive intent.”
It’s a simple shift, but the results can be huge, she explained to Fortune. “You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed.”
Instead of getting defensive, you’ll be able to really listen to other people – and moreover, other people will be able to really listen to you. “[W]hen you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, ‘Hey, wait a minute, maybe I’m wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort.'”
Richard Branson: Listen more than you talk
“When I grew up our house was always a hive of activity, with Mum dreaming up new entrepreneurial schemes left, right and centre, and me and my sisters running wild,” the Virgin Group founder wrote in a 2015 LinkedIn post.
Amidst the chaos, Branson’s dad was an anchor of calm and support. “He wasn’t quiet, but he was not often as talkative as the rest of us. It made for a wonderful balance, and we always knew we could rely on him no matter what.”
“Within this discreet support lay one of his best and most simple pieces of advice for me: listen more than you talk,” he wrote. “Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.”
Steve Jobs: Paint the back of the fence
If Apple is defined in part by its commitment to beautiful design, then Paul Jobs – Steve Jobs’ adoptive father – may be the person to thank.
“Paul Jobs was a salt-of-the-earth guy who was a great mechanic. And he taught his son Steve how to make great things,” Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, told CBS News.
“Once they were building a fence. And he said, ‘You got to make the back of the fence that nobody will see just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.'”
Martha Stewart: You can do anything
The lifestyle mogul said she would never have been able to take the risks that have led to her success without a key piece of advice from her dad.
“He told me that with my personal characteristics, I could, if I set my mind to it, do anything I chose,” she wrote in a 2013 post on LinkedIn. “This advice instilled in me a great sense of confidence, and despite the fact that sometimes I was a little nervous, I stepped out and did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.”
Mohamed El-Erian: Consider other points of view
Growing up in Paris, El-Erian – now the chief economic advisor at Allianz – learned the value of getting out of his comfort zone from his dad, who was once Egypt’s ambassador to France.
“Each day we used to get at least four daily newspapers, from Le Figaro on the right side of the political spectrum to L’Humanité, which was the newspaper of the Communist Party,” he told Fortune in 2009.
“I remember asking my father, Why do we need four newspapers? He said to me, ‘Unless you read different points of view, your mind will eventually close, and you’ll become a prisoner to a certain point of view that you’ll never question.'”
Walt Bettinger: You can’t buy reputation
The president and CEO of Charles Schwab told Fortune that the paternal advice that’s shaped his life the most is also some of the simplest. “Most things in the world can be bought or sold,” his father said to him, “but not a reputation.”
“With these few words of great wisdom, my father instilled in me a framework for behaviour, interactions with others, and decision making that shapes my actions every day,” he explained.
Barbara Corcoran: Don’t follow the leader
Real estate superstar Barbara Corcoran caught the entrepreneurial bug from her dad.
“[My father] would quit his job when the boss told him to do something,” she explained in a 2015 Inc. interview. “It was an M.O. If he came home before 5:30 we knew he had been fired. And we all sat at the table early for dinner promptly at 6:00, because my mother was like a lieutenant. And he would say, ‘Guess what, kids?’ And we’d all shout together, ‘You were fired?!’ And that was the most exciting meal of the month.”
That spirit was contagious, she says, and it’s the reason she is where she is today. “My father taught us a great heaping of insubordination and I think that’s why [his children] didn’t want to grow up working for anybody.”
Mark Cuban: Have fun
The billionaire tech entrepreneur, investor, and Dallas Mavericks owner knows there’s more to life than business, and he learned it from his dad.
“My dad says it over and over, ‘Today’s the youngest you’re ever going to be. You’ve got to live like it. You’ve got to live young every day.’ And that’s what I try to do,” he told the crowd at South by Southwest in 2014.
Sara Blakely: Celebrate failure
Spanx might not be the company it is today were it not for Blakely’s father’s dinnertime routine.
“My dad used to ask my brother and me at the dinner table what we had failed at that week,” she told the audience at a 2015 Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship event in New York City. “I can remember coming home from school and saying, ‘Dad, I tried out for this and I was horrible!’ and he would high-five me and say, ‘Way to go!’If I didn’t have something that I had failed at, he actually would be disappointed.”
It’s that attitude that gave Blakely the confidence to take big risks. “He gave me the gift of retraining my thinking about failure,” she explained. “Failure for me became about not trying, instead of the outcome.”
Kenneth Chenault: The only thing you can control is your performance
There’s a lot in this world that you can’t control. But if the former American Express CEO turned venture capitalist learned one lesson from his dad, it’s to focus your energy on the things you can.
“If you’re going to focus on anything, focus on what you can control,” he said, addressing the audience at the McComb School of Business at the University of Texas-Austin in 2012. “And the only thing you can control is your performance.”
It’s empowering advice, he pointed out. “[W]hat it says to a person is you can really make a difference. You can really make a difference off your performance.”
Steve Ballmer: Go all in
The former Microsoft CEO and current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers said the best piece of advice he ever got – “bar none” – came from his father.
“My dad said, ‘If you’re going do a job, do a job. And if you’re not going to do a job, don’t do a job. And that is the key of everything,” he explained in an interview at Oxford’s business school.
In other words: go all in. “If you’re going to do something, then do it heart, body, and soul,” he said.
Rachel Sugar wrote a previous version of this article.
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