Father’s Day is a few days away and this day reminds me of the business lessons I learned from my dad at the dinner table each day while I was growing up. He was a co-owner of a machine shop—a small business—that made parts for such items as telephone equipment, helicopters, and the Minuteman missile. Needless to say, his lessons—spoken and unspoken—had a profound impact on me. (This is a blog I ran 4 years ago but wanted to revisit it with some modifications.)
Running a business is 24/7.
My dad talked about the routine and the not-so-routine events of his business day. He talked about some of the challenges he faced and the solutions he devised. I remember the amazing looking machines (drill presses and such) he put together to make the parts he contracted to sell. He lived his business and he shared it with his family.
Taking risks is routine.
By definition, being a business owner means taking risks. My dad took a big one when he started the company after World War II; it was a time when machine shops were closing, not opening. He took another big risk when the company built a factory in the Bronx. He put everything on the line to get it done (I was young but looking back I believe our house was used for collateral). I learned that taking risks is just something you do if you want to own a business.
Be careful who you go into business with.
He started his business with a partner; they had equal ownership. Years later, they took in another partner and split profits equally among the three of them. Each partner had his own distinct talents—business operations, finances, sales—and that was where they directed their efforts. I recall there being some serious conflicts from time to time, but overall the arrangement worked well because they knew each other well.
Employees come and go.
In small businesses, employees become a sort of family, where personal matters—births, graduations, weddings, illnesses, deaths—are shared with everyone. But no matter how close owners feel to employees, employees may not share the same feelings. They may not even feel loyalty. Some may even leave to start competing companies (a group left my father’s company en masse to set up their own machine shop not far away). Still, this shouldn’t stop owners from working to create good feelings in the workplace.
Dealing with the government is part of daily operations.
I recall various interactions my dad had with the Defense Department, OSHA, IRS, and the NLRB. To be a government contractor with the Defense Department, he had to go through an FBI background check and he talked about how it went. He talked about the company’s IRS audit. And more. I learned that it was just routine to deal with the government, and something that could not be avoided, when running a business.
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano (Jimmy V), college basketball player, coach, and broadcaster.
My dad died many years ago. I wish he could have seen the developments in technology that happened since then; he would surely have embraced them. I wish he could have seen my business success. Maybe he does see?