Business Owners Tell All: Business Lessons I Learned From My Dad

Sarah Hodgson

For many entrepreneurs, their fathers did more than just rattle off bad dad jokes and embarrass them at high school sporting events. Either by way of example or counsel, their fathers imparted bits of wisdom and shared life secrets, paving the road to success for their children.

We recently shared some business lessons from Mom, and today we’re giving fatherly wisdom its time in the limelight. To commemorate Father’s Day this year, we asked entrepreneurs to share the business advice from their dads that urged them to make smart, informed decisions in their industries. Below, we pieced together our favorite responses that depict the impact and lasting mark of a father’s guidance.


business fathers dayAshley Micciche, CRPC, QPFC, CEO of True North Retirement Advisors

I have worked with my dad for over a decade, so I get to experience his fatherly wisdom every day! The primary value that I carry with me in business dealings with clients, co-workers, and others is something that my dad has said to me hundreds of times: You always have to be able to look yourself in the mirror.

In other words, maintain high standards & always do what is right, so you can always be proud of who you are. In our current culture of moral relativism and you do you, it’s harder and harder for people to find their moral compass because the definition of the right thing continues to be a moving target. A strong moral code and a specific set of values (honesty, kindness, and temperance) is also necessary to define the right actions, which he has instilled in me as well.

My dad not only preaches, but also lives these values. I’ve never once known him to cheat or lie, and I got into massively big trouble when I lied or cheated as a child. I’ve seen my dad do the right thing when it cost him dearly to do so. One time, he discovered that he made a trading error with a client’s account. The client had no idea this error was made, but because my dad felt obligated to this client to do the right thing, he explained the error to the client and made the client whole again. He paid for the error out of his own pocket, which cost him thousands of dollars.


vito michael santoroV. Michael Santoro, Co-Founder of  Vaetas, LLC

My father owned a small furniture store when I was in my teens. On one visit to his store, I decided to look at the new bedroom furniture he had just put on display while he was with a customer.

I was shocked to see a headboard that looked like he hunted a Woolly Mammoth and used the fur to create it. Additionally, the middle had what looked like an embedded shadow box that contained a light fixture along with two plastic wine glasses. It took all the control I had to not burst out with hysterical laughter. As my father was with a customer, I thought it prudent to remain silent.

When the customer left, I did burst out laughing and asked how he could possibly put it in his store. He was silent for a moment and did not break eye contact. He then said, “If I put the furniture that I liked into the store, it would never sell.”

That was an amazing lesson I learned from my father that day. In business, you need to provide what your customers want to grow your business, and not assume that what you like will sell.


fathers day business lessonsMaksym Podsolonko, CEO of Eazyplan

My father has lived an exceptionally full life and is now 80 years old. He did dozens of sports, was a military pilot, worked in a heavy industry and continues to lecture at a faculty of management that he created in his university almost 30 years ago. There are hundreds of lessons I learned from him, but if I had to highlight a single one most important for my business, it would be the strategy of indirect actions.

Although it sounds quite academic (which is due to my dad’s university background), it’s extremely simple and helps you make sure you have your bases covered with a clear strategy ahead. All it means is do not put all of your eggs in the same basket and take as many opportunities as possible.

As long as I can remember, he has always been telling me to have at least three sources of income, three projects in development and three different hobbies. Although it may seem like a lot, it’s actually just the right number to keep me busy, have a backup in case something goes wrong and often be surprised by how all these activities cross-pollinate and help me grow each day.


busiKristina Libby, Entrepreneur

My Dad has been an entrepreneur a few times in his life and mainly in the construction trade. While that has done little to inform my career in health and beauty, it did inform my overall approach to starting a business.

Measure twice. Build once. My Dad used to say this as I watched him build houses and furniture. I’ve taken the same approach to my business. By being patient and methodical in my world, I’ve been able to make sure the things I build are built for life. All the tough work is your work. My Dad did everything that needed doing: he vacuumed the floor, made dinner, cleaned the septic tank or built a tree-house. There wasn’t any work that he couldn’t handle. This is something that he passed on to me as a business owner: everything can be my work — especially the stuff no one else wants to do.


brand loyaltyPaige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls

Pay Your Dues: My dad worked a lot of late nights, weekends and holidays. He had packages of mail and paperwork delivered to him at the beach, and took conference calls in our hotel room while we swam in the pool. He instilled in me a strong work ethic that has served me well in my career. His father used to have a sign on his desk that read: The harder I work, the luckier I get! I guess it’s in our DNA.

Do Work You Enjoy: If you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. When I’d get up and watch him get ready for work, my dad always seemed excited to go to the office. He bounced out of bed in the morning full of ideas and energy. His enthusiasm was contagious. He found a career that was a great fit for his talents and skills and moved quickly through the organization. I think it
must have been hard for others in the company who had to drag themselves to their job every day and work alongside my father, who was having a ball finding creative solutions to the latest problems they were facing.

Walk and Talk: My dad walked the halls every day and he knew everybody’s name, not to mention their kids’ and pets’ names, birthdays–you name it. His door was open and he always had coffee or tea available so people could stop in with news, good and bad. Being accessible and approachable is important if you want a culture where people can admit they don’t have all the answers and need help in a certain area.

Lead by Example: Never ask people to do things you wouldn’t do yourself. My dad worked in every department of the company during his career, so he knew why and how each group was important to the overall success of the organization. I think his experience and strong moral compass gave him a lot of credibility throughout the company. His colleagues didn’t have to wonder where he stood on issues–he was consistent in doing the right things for the right reasons.

Share Success: When good things happen, he taught me to make sure everyone who contributed is acknowledged and rewarded, not just the people at the top. In order to learn from every experience and not repeat any mistakes, it’s important to share the lessons you learn, too. If those around you feel part of the process, they’ll work even harder to guarantee a positive outcome. Give Back: Be active in your community. Business leaders must stay connected to the local organizations and should encourage their colleagues to get involved, as well. Local hospitals, schools and nonprofits can all benefit from business leaders’ advice and support, so be generous with your time and resources.

Stay Positive: My dad was one of the most upbeat and optimistic people I’ve ever met. He had a great attitude and people loved being around him. I think it makes them feel better about themselves. He always had a kind word or encouragement and smiled a lot. There’s something very magnetic about people who exude happiness. My dad died 2 years ago sadly and I use the many lessons he taught me every day.


Jane Grote Abell, Chairwoman of Donatos Pizza

It is undeniable that the role my father, Jim Grote, has played in shaping my life has been priceless. From my earliest memories, my dad instilled in all four of his children life lessons about honesty, integrity, hard work and respect. My dad dropped out of college at the age of 19 to prove that you could be in business and keep your principles. His mission was to operate a business based on love and the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. He worked hard to create an environment where people felt like they were part of the family.

I learned early on that our family was much broader than our immediate family members. Growing up behind the first restaurant, we shared so many of our experiences in life with our associates and our customers. My dad didn’t take his role as a business owner or a father lightly. He was determined from a very young age to share his ideals with everyone he met, whether it was in his personal or professional life. Most importantly, he taught me how to love my way through life, even in the darkest days and the toughest moments. I am proud to call him my Dad, my Business Partner and my friend. Happy Father’s Day!


Andrew Schutt, Owner of Elevated Web Marketing

I’ve taken a few lessons from my Dad, but there’s one in particular that has really been a make or break factor in my business. All throughout growing up I remember him telling me “hard work pays off” and even though it was so subtle, it always stuck with me. He would most frequently say it whenever I made an accomplishment – whether that was making the travel hockey team or getting good grades back from a year of school. Now in my business, I work hard every day because I know that’s the only way things get driven forward. If we want to make progress and improve, we need to put in the work. And that applies well beyond business – that applies to everything in life. I keep that in the back of my mind every day when I’m getting ready to start work in the morning. It helps motivate me to give my full effort to what I’m doing each and every day. If I want to hit the goals I’ve set for myself, the only way to make it happen is to work hard


Nate Masterson, Marketing Manager at Maple Holistics

My father would be the first to admit that he taught me a lot about what not to do. He was a salaried employee turned self-employed entrepreneur, whose first business venture failed, and who eventually went back to his old day job. He doesn’t show it much, but I know that he is not a happy worker nowadays, and that he wishes things would have turned out differently. I am still hoping he will go back into business someday.

He taught me a simple lesson which I have carried with me: research. He made many mistakes in his business, but they taught him a lot about the nature of business and of people. And the number one thing is research and preparation.

He told me in the past that had he done the research, the business would have looked very different and he would have acted in a different way. My father had a limited amount of time at his disposal to make the business work – he was on a one-year sabbatical – and he didn’t put enough effort into proper market research. This – more than anything – is what caused his business to go under in less than a year. He was interested in launching it quickly, but didn’t factor certain aspects in.

There is a lot to be said for taking risks, aiming high, and shooting for success – obviously! After all, no worthwhile business venture is ever risk-free. But even so, there is a way to do it properly. He knows that now. Happy Father’s Day, dad. Whether a Working Joe or an entrepreneur – you’re still teaching me so much.


Alexander Lowry, Executive Director of the M.S. in Financial Analysis Program at Gordon College

My father passed away six years ago. I was amazed at his funeral service how many of his colleagues shared his mantra: just do the right thing! So simple, and they had all adopted it and were using it to focus their decision making. I’ve also adopted the philosophy and have used it to build Gordon College’s Master of Science in Financial Analysis program. Our emphasis is ethical decision making and doing well while doing good, so my father’s advice and legacy lives on.


why I love my businessVladimir Gendelman, Founder & CEO of Company Folders

As a kid, my father used to tell me “Don’t worry about what others think. Just do what¹s comfortable for you.” This was so I wouldn¹t trouble myself with dressing or acting a certain way to make other kids like me. Now that I am an adult, I use this advice to run my business by doing what makes sense to me. As a result, I stand out from others as I live my life with authenticity. I remain true to myself as well as my values and beliefs by not focusing on what others are doing or what they think of me and my actions.


Sal Scognamillo, Owner and Executive Chef of Patsy’s Italian Restaurant

I took up the family business running Patsy’s Italian Restaurant from my father, Joe, who had succeed his father, Patsy, before him. A very important lesson my father taught me was one he learned from his father, which has helped our restaurant have a successful 74 years and counting. The advice was “you must treat everyone like guests in your own home, and always stay consistent.”

We have been told coming to Patsy’s Italian Restaurant is like going home. We welcome every diner whether it’s their first or hundredth time visiting us and have been told by many customers one of their favorite things is knowing the food will taste good because we have always been consistent. I even still work with the same cheese and vegetable providers my father and grandfather used, and they too are run by the grandchildren of their original owners.

As of this year, the fourth generation will be joining us at Patsy’s Italian Restaurant as my son, Joe, is joining the family business. I look forward to teaching him the lessons that have been passed down to me.


Jerry Haffey Jr., President of Business Development at Ambrosia Treatment Center

One of the best pieces of advice my father ever gave me is that you need to not only work hard, but also work smart. My father started out as a blue-collar worker, but when he saw the need for better treatment for addicts and alcoholics, he took that risk. He could have continued to work hard for the rest of his life, but instead, he decided to work smart and hard, leveraging his opportunity into a successful business. Over ten years later, Ambrosia Treatment Center has helped over 10,000 people struggling with addiction find hope.

Today, my father and I work together, he as the CEO and Founder, and myself as the President of Business Development. On a daily basis, I observe him practicing what he preached to me as a kid. Working in business development, I use his words to get in front of the right people. I could talk to 100 people every day about Ambrosia, but it only takes one good interaction to make a difference. I strategically seek out the best opportunities and then work diligently to make them happen. His advice made all the difference.


Catching the Father’s Day feels? Leave a little story about your dad in the comment section below!  

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