My dad, Irving, grew up on a dairy farm - in Brooklyn! He was born in 1917. Brooklyn’s changed a little bit since then.
The farm life, I think, molded him and it gave him a soft-spoken manner and a gift for plain-speak wisdom. Being quiet, he never spoke just to hear the sound of his own voice. But when he did speak, many listened. Not everything he said was uniquely his own. Dad never tried to represent any of it as his own original thinking, just things that were helpful to remember.
It has helped guide me through life and business. I hope you will find it helpful as well. The following are just a few of his many sayings. It’s my hope that I’ll get to share more of them in the future:
1. On high-potential low-performing employees: “They’re the kind of people who help you milk the cow and then kick the bucket over as they’re leaving the barn.”
2. On taking risks: “I gamble everyday I’m in business, and I like the odds there a whole lot better than at a casino.”
3. On sales rejection: “Your wife and kids will still love you even when the customers say no. And what’s the worst thing they can do … say no?”
4. On the importance of investing in the business: “Act like you’re going to be in business a long time. It gets a whole lot easier to cough up the dough.”
5. On staying up-to-date in our industry: “Stuff’s always changing. Either you’re getting smarter or you’re getting dumber. There is no standing still when it comes to learning.”
6. On tough competition: “Bless your competition, they make you better.”
7. On downturns in the economy: “Be thankful for the downturns. Up to now you’ve been getting away with being sloppy. Slow times make you sharper. In good times, anyone can be in business. Besides, the weak competitors tend to disappear in tough times.”
8. On seemingly insurmountable business problems: “Real problems only exist when giving it time, working hard and spending money can’t fix it.”
9. On business attitude and attire: “Act and dress like a professional and soon you will be one.”
10. On how to treat customers: “Be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and not have to look away.”
11. On the unimportant issues with staff members: “There’s a time to wear blinders. You don’t want to see every little thing an employee does or doesn’t do, because if you did you’d need to deal with it. Just focus on seeing the big things they do and don’t do.”
12. On “disappearing” materials: “It’s amazing. If I sell a $1 million installation, it means there will typically be about $300,000 spent on materials. And when I sell $2 million of install work, it should mean there would be about $600,000 spent on materials. As long as the percentages of my cost stay the same, it’s OK. But if doubling the work sold more than doubles the cost of the materials, I have a problem that’s got to get fixed. It’s either my selling price is too low or I have unintentional partners for employees.”
13.On uncontrollable growth: “I love work and I love to make sales grow. But, I have no desire to be the richest man in the graveyard.”
14. On the balance between management and employees: “Neither management nor employees can survive for long if they’re solely focused on what’s good for them at the expense of the other.”
15. On treating staff like family: “We treat our employees like family because it’s the right thing to do. So if that means attending weddings, visiting them at the hospital or attending a family member’s funeral, we’re glad to do it. One of the reasons people choose to work for us is because we are a family and not like some utility company where they’re just a number.”
My dad passed away more than five years ago, but rarely does a day go by that I don’t think about what he told me. And rarely does a day go by where I don’t quote him to my clients.
It’s funny to be an adult today and to see now how I was being molded all along from a kid into a man. I consider myself one of the lucky few because I really got the opportunity to know my dad. Our working together for more than 25 years was a great forum for learning.
One of the wonderful things about the plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical trades is that many of us come into our family business, and get to share the wisdom and camaraderie that comes from having so many shared experiences with our dads at work.
Won’t you please e-mail me your dad’s favorite sayings, and let me know how they have helped guide you in business?