Apr 17

5 Things I Learned About Business from my Dad

My Dad would have been 83 today.  He died eight years ago and I still think about him frequently.

My father and I chose very different paths career-wise.  He was an accomplished academic who stayed in school into his 30s.  I went to work right after college, returned for an an MBA, then went back to work.  My Dad worked almost exclusively for the federal government as an economist, researcher, and urban planner.    I, on the other hand, have been fascinated with private enterprise since I can remember.  Working for the government never occurred to me.

And yet, I learned a lot about business from my Dad.  Here’s a few nuggets:

If You Don’t Communicate Well, the Rest is Moot

From the time I was in high school, my Dad beat me up about my writing.  He would brutally edit my papers and critique my word choice.  At the time, I hated it.  Now, I’m incredibly grateful.   His point was simple:  No matter how strong your position, if you can’t communicate it clearly you’re dead in the water.  My Dad didn’t know about Powerpoint, but I’m sure he’d have strong opinions if he sat through many of presentations I’ve seen.

Be Loyal

Before he died, I went to my Dad to ask for some advice when I was working at some start-up or another.    I had been at the company since the beginning, but things were going sideways.  I had other opportunities and was considering bailing out.  His position was clear:  You were a part of getting this thing going, you  need to stick it out until the end.    He was right.  I stuck it out and things worked out for the best.

Just Solve the Problem

Like many of us, I can get wrapped about the axle stressing about some work problem or another.   Whenever this happened, my Dad’s advice was always the same:  don’t worry about all the things that you can’t do anything about, just focus on the root problem.  He was right — wasting energy on stressing about a wild series of what-ifs does nothing to move the ball.

Study the Matter

My Dad never made decisions quickly.  It was maddening when I was a kid.  The answer always seemed obvious to my naive mind.  But he was always thoughtful.  He took the time to research and understand, and to let his thought wash over the options before deciding.  While I didn’t always agree with his answer, it was always well-reasoned and deliberative.

When a Man Knows He is to be Hanged in a Fortnight, it Concentrates His Mind Wonderfully

A sign with this saying hung in his office for years.   In other words:  deadlines and consequences matter.  Some amount of time pressure constrains the task and focuses efforts. I’ve found this works for myself and for my teams.

I miss you, Dad.   Some days I really could use some advice.




  1. Jeff Wilklow

    Great advice – thanks for sharing. I’m sorry I never got to meet the man, but he lives on through the good work of his son. You honor his memory.

  2. Jonathan Bruce

    Great post Charles.

    I could write the much the same about my mother, although her council was far removed from business best practices, certainly more life centric, but altogether resonates with me still, today. She always seemed to have an answer to whatever problem I threw at her.

    Otherwise, I can certainly see echoes of your post in how you go about your business day. I have always been envious of your ability to communicate that often lights up a room.

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