A father’s example and advice can inexorably affect the lives of his children. Here’s how more than two dozen successful leaders say their dads affected their trajectories.
1. Surround yourself with great people.
“The best advice I ever received from my dad is to always surround yourself with great people. You never want to be the smartest person in the room and want individuals that will challenge you to think outside of the box and help you break through the ceiling to the next level. He has proven himself with creating a leadership team of nine of the best individuals, sometimes with different opinions but always come to together make decisions for what is best for the company.”
–Jennifer M. Jackson, VP of development of Hungry Howie’s, a national pizza franchise with more than 550 restaurants open or under construction in 21 states
2. Take things one step at a time and everything else will fall into place.
“My Dad always taught me to figure out how to get on first base, then on second, and then on third. The homeruns will happen on their own.”
–Andy Wiederhorn, president and CEO of FAT Brands, Inc., a global franchising company that develops fast casual and casual dining restaurants around the world, including Fatburger, Buffalo’s Cafe, and Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouse with more than 300 locations open worldwide
3. We’re the average of the people we spend time with.
“One of the most valuable lessons I learned from [my father] growing up was that we are all guilty by association. In other words, we are the average of the people that we spend the most time with. So, if you want to be a drug dealer? Surround yourself with drug dealers. If you want to be a millionaire? Surround yourself with millionaires. This goes for surrounding yourself with people who are caring, generous, etc., and has really carried into the kinds of friends and professional networks that I aim to keep.”
–Adam Callinan, cofounder and CEO of BottleKeeper, which was recently featured on Good Morning America and The View
4. Your name is all you have, so protect it.
“My dad’s advice… Essentially, your name is your integrity, and how people know you will do what you say you will do. It’s how they know you’ll live up the standards you have set for yourself as a son, husband, father, professional, and so on. I didn’t realize until later in life how profound and deep this was. I was building my own personal brand, and my name was how people in my professional network, and most importantly how my children, would see me. When I am gone, what will they know me by? It will be by how they speak to my name. This gem will be passed on to my children and hopefully generations to come.”
–Brett Worthington, VP of global business development and partnerships at SmartThings, a company helping to turn homes into smart homes and acquired by Samsung in 2014
5. You’ll be happier professionally if you love life.
“I specifically remember a time earlier in my career where I stayed late at work and missed a performance I was supposed to give for my guitar class. He called me to see how it went, and when I told him I ended up spending time at work instead he made me promise that while work is important, I would put myself first and work around my personal life, rather than through it. That balance has kept me sane as I’ve continued to grow in my career. His contagious energy and motivation to make it look easy to have it all and has made me always work harder to keep making him proud.
–Erin Jordan, leader of the retail technology and commerce practice at Walker Sands Communications and author of the Future of Retail report, which has garnered the attention of Fortune 500 companies and has been featured in Inc., Forbes, CNBC, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, The Washington Post and more
6. Every stranger can teach you something.
“My dad is a hardworking carpenter and business owner from Long Island, and he has an incredible gift for connecting with strangers. He can get almost anyone (and I mean anyone) to open up and speak about what is truly meaningful to them. It could be the guy working the deli meat counter, the finance executive on the train, the kid raising money door-to-door for his football team, the elderly ladies at the local nursing home… When others would rather be polite and keep their distance, my dad has the boldness to ask people real questions. He’s not abnormally charismatic or friendly, but he is intensely curious. In a world where we are all buried in our phones in public, unplanned conversations can add richness and adventure to your life and career. We all want to feel known, and I’m so thankful to have my father’s example of boldness, spontaneity, and openness to follow.”
–Drew D’Agostino, CEO of Crystal, which provides millions of personality assessments each year to over 2,000 companies worldwide
7. Character counts.
“I can’t remember a single time when [my dad] didn’t hold the door open for someone behind him or for someone approaching, or a single time when he didn’t stop and offer to assist an elderly person who may or may not have needed a simple helping hand. In short, my dad personifies integrity and respect. I’ve tried to emulate my dad and have found that embodying these characteristics in my personal as well as business life has helped me thrive and feel fulfilled at the end of each and every day. Goodness is about character. I’ve been fortunate to be part of several high energy management teams launching and building startup companies in the high-tech arena. We were most successful in the markets where and when each critical executive embraced integrity and respect. I cannot thank my father enough for such valuable lessons early in my life.”
–Brian Fitzgerald, SVP of Global Solutions, NOKIA Corporation, which operates in the 5G wireless infrastructure market globally
8. Always do your best.
“[My dad] was an individual that always made an impact with others and he taught me that in a world that can often be cold and cruel, there’s real power and beauty in being kind hearted to others… In April of 2013, I lost my younger brother to cancer. Danny was only 33 years old and it was devastating on so many levels. For a parent, life is never the same after losing a child. My father owned a jewelry manufacturing business and my younger brother had been working with him for several years. After my brother’s passing, I decided to move back to Rhode Island and pick up where my brother and Dad had left off. Fast forward five years: We started a new business together called Luca + Danni, successfully leveraging the infrastructure of his factory but now as a digitally native, vertically integrated, direct-to-consumer brand. The brand is built on the lessons I learned from him, including the importance of family, celebrating people and embracing the journey of life. My father passed away unexpectedly last month and this will be my first Father’s Day without him. I will cherish the memories that we’ve made together and I am so grateful for all of the valuable lessons he’s taught me over the years.”
–Fred Magnanimi, founder and CEO of Luca + Danni, an American jewelry brand available online as well as through a network of more than 600 retailers across the U.S.
9. Be grateful and humble in whatever role you play.
“When I was a little kid, the grandfather of a good friend passed away, and I first realized my grandparents wouldn’t be around forever. Noticing my sadness, my grandfather asked me to fill a big bowl of water. He told me to make two fists and slowly put them in the bowl, and then asked me to stay there for five minutes. Then, he instructed me to slowly take my fists out of the bowl without spilling any water. ‘Do you see the big hole left behind when your hands came out?’ he asked. Of course, there was no hole, and the water had covered any indication that my hands had ever been there. My grandfather stated simply, ‘As much as I love you, and you love me, that is how life will carry on once I am gone.’ His words instilled in me a perspective of humility: never think too highly of yourself, no matter how good you believe you are. I often recall the story of the bowl of water when a key employee resigns, and realize that while it might be tough, others will step up. We will find someone new. Or we might even re-shape the role to fit someone else. Life is always about what we can contribute to make this world a better place, but we should still be grateful and humble in whatever role we play. This sentiment goes for both our personal and professional lives because the circle of life goes on with or without us.”
–Anthony Goonetilleke, president of Amdocs Technology at Amdocs, a software and services provider for the communications and media industry and 2018 leader in Gartner’s magic quadrant for operations support systems
10. Wherever you go in life, there you are.
“My dad is a teacher and guidance counselor, so he always pushed me to generate insight and learning from my own self-reflection, when sometimes I just wanted him to give me an easy answer. As life unfurled, I leaned on my dad’s wisdom to map a career path with one common theme: generate insight at every twist and turn. His favorite quote was ‘wherever you go in life, there you are’ coming from Willie Nelson by way of Confucius… which is a good metaphor for my unorthodox moves! I think he meant to reinforce two key lessons: one, there is no wrong path – only many right paths with different growth. As I took many different ‘right paths,’ from finance on Wall Street to technology in Silicon Valley, I got the second key learning, which is about mindfulness and presence. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstance, make the most of it, give your best effort at that moment, and you will make an impact.”
–Sara Baack, CMO of Equinix, an interconnection and data center company with more than 200 data centers located across 52 markets around the globe
11. Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time, just like you do.
“This idea of demystifying the unknown always stayed with me. Over time I applied this same idea to pursuing startups. Realizing that most of the world around you; the things, the products, the services, were made by people who are no smarter than you. There is an often-quoted answer Steve Jobs gave back in 1995 to this effect which I always loved as well. It’s so true. From the first day of starting a company, you get thrown into so many deep pools that you just have to learn to swim. After I did that a few times I always thought ‘Hey that wasn’t so hard.’ I would look at a product I admired and think ‘Man I could never do something like that.’ But then after learning what that product was all about under the hood, I would think, ‘Oh, that’s it?’ Not in a disappointing way, just a ‘That’s not so hard’ kind of way. And this happened over and over. Pitching to a senior exec for the first time, building a new product, helping a customer go live with a big complex project, etc.
–Rick Nucci, CEO of Guru, a contextual coaching platform that helps sales and support teams respond faster and more accurately to customer conversations with customers including Square, Shopify, Intercom and more
12. Leave it better than you found it.
“My father was a high school teacher and a journalist at three of the papers in his town. He was a hard-driving person who accepted no excuses. He believed you had to be the best you could be no matter what, and he expected that from his children. The advice from him that has stuck with me my entire life is, ‘Leave it better than you found it.’ You have to be sensitive to a situation when you walk into it. You can’t just show up with your stuff. You have to contribute and add rather than subtract. That advice has become the fabric of who I am. As a parent myself, my Dad’s lesson has really made me think about what I want for my kids. I, too, want them to be the best, but I also want to be sure they’re who they want to be, whether that’s artists or engineers or something entirely different. That’s so important for women. That’s why I do the work I do now–to leave the tech industry better for women than when I found it.”
–Brenda Darden Wilkerson, president and CEO of AnitaB.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of women in technology which works with women technologists in more than 50 countries, and partners with leading academic institutions and Fortune 500 companies
13. Kindness and generosity go a long way.
“My father led by example with very few words. He worked hard, he was generous with anything he had (time or money) and always strove to do the right thing. If there was any piece of spoken advice it was this: ‘Always be nice to your mother.'”
–Chris Powell, CMO of Commvault, a provider of enterprise backup, recovery, archive and the cloud which has consistently been named a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Data Center Backup and Recovery Software for the last seven years
14. Think big, act with humility and give it everything you have.
“Coming from a middle-class family my dad wanted his kids to only be limited by their own potential. Maximizing your potential starts by dreaming big and then working hard and giving it your all to achieve those dreams. But he always emphasized that chasing your dreams with humility and integrity was also important. Humility and integrity enable you to leave your community and the world a better place than the one you were born into, which is what delivers true happiness. My parents gave up two decades of hard-earned savings to fund my education, because they believed in me and what I could achieve. Their actions spoke louder than words, and their sacrifice motivated me more than anything else.”
–Neil Araujo, CEO of iManage, a leading technology company building document management and artificial intelligence solutions used by over one million professionals at over 3,000 organizations in over 65 countries
15. Break up tense situations by being playful.
“My father was a playful person – he worked hard, but also made time to enjoy life and family. He would often break the ice in a tense situation by being playful or silly, and showed me that play was the best remedy for so much of life’s challenges; for clearing the mind, getting through difficult times, and staying connected with family, friends and community.”
–Lisa Tarver, founder and chief impact officer of One World Play Project, a B Corporation which has delivered nearly 2 million balls worldwide to an estimated 60 million youth in 185 countries worldwide
16. Business is a team sport and every employee is important to the success of a company.
“I witnessed his wisdom firsthand when I worked in the warehouse of the company he managed for a summer after high school. He treated each of the 20 or so hourly employees working in the warehouse as equals and knew each one personally. It was clear that the warehouse employees had a lot of respect for my father and they would go the extra mile as needed for him, the company and ultimately the customers because of his team effort approach. Seeing my dad in action definitely influenced the way I run a company today and believe this approach gives us a competitive advantage due to the team-based culture we have been able to build.”
–Scott Knoll, CEO of Integral Ad Science, a global software company operating in the advertising industry with offices in 13 countries and over 600 employees
17. Always shine your shoes.
“My dad is big on the idea of dressing for the job you want, not the one you have and still to this day he asks me before a big presentation if I shined my shoes. From his view, the way you pull yourself together is a reflection of how organized and prepared you are. This advice has been a little bit harder to follow in my world where CEOs wear New Balance sneakers and hooded sweatshirts, but I still always try to make sure that I’m putting my best foot forward.”
–Sara Varni, CMO at Twilio, a cloud communications platform that enables innovators across every industry to reinvent how companies engage with their customers
18. Make sure every note counts.
“One of Dad’s gifts was his musicianship. As a kid, I grew up listening to my dad play beautiful thought-provoking Jazz piano. I took for granted that he had a disability and somehow had overcome it. You see, my dad was born with only 6 fingers. Hard to play 88 keys with six when most can’t play it with 10. In fact, when he first wanted to play piano, no one would teach him. So instead he learned trumpet. Eventually though, he really wanted to play piano. So, for his 16th birthday he asked his parents for a piano and he taught himself in one summer. He spent countless hours at the piano that summer. So much at times his fingers bled. It was his grit that enabled him to figure out how to make his disability an asset. That summer he created a new style of jazz that I have never heard repeated. He leveraged the pedals so he could use all 88 keys and boy did he ever. When I listen to his music, every note counts and you hear it. So, whenever I doubt or question if I will be able to do what I need to do to make my business successful, I think of my dad and the lessons he taught me. I think of the importance of determination, persistence and grit in achieving great accomplishments.”
–René Lacerte, founder and CEO of Bill.com, a business payments network with 3 million members processing over $50 billion per year in payment volume
19. Stay focused, determined and complete things.
“My father often talked about the importance of finishing what you started. Success is a compilation of completed tasks. Taking a risk and going for it is important, but if it’s never taken to the finish line it is an unsuccessful attempt. This advice has stuck with me when things gets tough and giving up seems like an option, but then I hear his voice in my head and make the choice to power through it, and complete the project.”
–Filipp Chebotarev, COO and partner at Cambridge Companies SPG, a strategic opportunity investment firm that has invested capital in better-for-you brands with celebrity partners including Foodstirs (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Once Upon a Farm (Jennifer Garner), Matchabar (Drake) and more
20. Attitude is everything.
“The best advice I ever received from my father was the power of a maintaining a positive attitude. My father grew up with very little and battled severe dyslexia. But he worked tremendously hard and ultimately led one of the nation’s largest mortgage insurance companies out of bankruptcy and through a successful IPO. He always told me that ‘attitude is everything.’ People are drawn to and motivated to work with people who are positive, even in the most extreme conditions. A positive attitude can help you overcome most any obstacle.”
–David Lacy, CEO of SmashMallow, a premium snackable marshmallow brand available in over 15,000 retailers nationwide including Target, Whole Foods, Walmart, CVS and more
21. Be generous.
“The best advice I ever received from my dad is to always be generous. He engrained in me that I am fortunate enough to be privileged and if I see someone’s situation sour, to never ignore it, but instead step in to help where I can. His passion for helping people has always been transparent in his advice and I am thankful for that.”
–Daniel Lee, marketing manager of Flame Broiler, a quick-serve restaurant franchise which has grown to nearly 200 restaurants throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Idaho, Florida and North Carolina
22. Always try to approach conversations with the end goal in mind.
“If you know what you want your desired outcome to be, you can be more strategic in how you approach the situation. I first learned this lesson after voicing my frustrations with a challenge I was facing. At the time, my dad convinced me that I could be more successful in my approach if I were more certain of how I wanted the situation to end up. Since then, I’ve found this advice to be useful in both my personal and professional life. When put into practice, this concept forces me to be less reactive and emotional. It also allows me to invite others to be a part of the desired solution, which–ultimately–results in a discussion that feels more positive for all involved.”
–Alex Bingham, president and CEO of The Little Gym International, a children’s enrichment and development franchise with over 390 locations worldwide
23. Respect others.
“My dad always taught me to treat everyone with the same respect. No matter their social status, rich, poor, color of their skin, language, or ethnicity, and to always help people in need. These are values I still live by today. The more you help others the more good actually comes back to you and the fuller your heart.”
–Neka Pasquale L.Ac. MS, licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, author and founder of Urban Remedy, which operates 15 retail locations and more than 35 kiosks across northern and southern California
24. Never give up.
“[T]he best advice [my dad] has ever given me was when I was eight years old preparing for an elementary school race at field day. He simply said, ‘Never, never, never give up no matter what.’ This is a mantra that I now live by and has helped me keep pressing forward in business even in the darkest of times because I know that if I simply do not give up, I will be successful regardless of the outcome.”
–Jordann Windschauer-Amatea, founder and CEO of Base Culture, a company providing Paleo-certified breads, brownies, granola and almond butters on Amazon and in over 2,600 store locations around the country
25. Be industrious in everything you do.
“It’s important to note that my father grew up in the South and as an African American living through segregation, he experienced life through a lens that people my age and younger could not imagine. He decided to leave the South in hopes of building a better life for himself in California. He had to adapt quickly to the various business challenges all entrepreneurs face, including the soul-testing lessons that come with overcoming fear of failure. Soon after I started on my own entrepreneurial path, I asked my father how he managed to accomplish it all and do it with such patience and grace. His answer was profound. He said, ‘Son, in life you are owed nothing. Always seek ways to leverage your talents. Most of all, be industrious in everything you do.'”
–Tafa Jefferson, founder and CEO of Amada Senior Care, a senior care franchise system with over 100 locations nationwide, and former NFL player for the Chicago Bears
26. No one will do the work for you.
“At age 16 I skipped school and my father found out. His advice to me was simple, he said ‘Alon, if you study or not it’s up to you, it’s your life.’ I understood then that nobody will do the work for me. I then focused on the things that were of interest to me and those are the things I excelled at.”
–Alon Ozery, founder and co-owner of Ozery Bakery, makers of Snacking and Morning Rounds named as the number one brand in unit sales in the natural food channel for 52 weeks ending April 22, outselling all other English Muffin and Bagel brands, according to SPINS Data
27. Keep a healthy balance.
“I feel honored to work with my father in the business that we have built together. Through witnessing his diligent work ethic to develop the healthy products Xlear is founded on, along with the model he set for our family growing up, I have watched his example and taken his advice around how family is key to success and happiness. As a dad now myself, I try to put his teachings into action with my own daughters, making every effort to be present in their day-to-day life, as well as maintaining my role at our company, leading our team–ensuring that family, health, and wellness are put as a priority in our lives and in our business.”
–Nathan Jones, CEO of Xlear, a provider of natural xylitol-based sinus and oral care products with a footprint in over 36,000 stores nationwide
28. Learn to sell what you love.
“When I was in elementary school, my dad, like most dads, asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I didn’t know what that meant, so I told him, ‘I want to be rich.’ To which he replied, ‘How are you going to do that?’ I, of course, had no answer. That day my dad taught me that to succeed in business, you must first succeed in sales, and to succeed in sales you must sell something you love. I’ve always remembered that, and to this day I feel so grateful to spend my time doing and selling what I love…”
–Ryan Farr, founder and CEO of 4505 Meats, a producer of artisanal pork rinds, with a footprint in grocery stores nationwide