HR & Management

Eight business leaders unveil best advice given to them by their father

6 min read

13 June 2017

Ahead of 18 June, we canvassed the web to unveil how sage advice from their father was key to the work ethic of eight successful bosses.

Father’s Day is just around the corner, and in a bid to celebrate the occasion, we unveil how some of the world’s most successful business leaders dedicate their success to their father.

1) Richard Branson, founder Virgin Group

One of the most resounding lessons I learned from my father was the importance of dreaming. My dad didn’t get to live out his dream to be an archaeologist; he followed in the footsteps of his father, a High Court judge.

“Dad struggled in his career as a barrister, but instead of mourning a life he could have lived, he made sure I learned from his mistakes, giving me remarkably free rein to find my own way, and live out my dreams. Even when I messed up, which I have done many time throughout my life, he always stood by me; knowing that by showing me unconditional love I would become the man I was meant to be.”

2) Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx

“My father used to ask my brother and me at the dinner table what we had failed at that week. I can remember coming home from school and saying, ‘Dad, I tried out for this and I was horrible!’ and he would high-five me and say, ‘Way to go!’ If I didn’t have something that I had failed at, he actually would be disappointed.

“He gave me the gift of retraining my thinking about failure. Failure for me became about not trying, instead of the outcome.”

3) Meg Whitman, CEO of HP

“I’ll never forget my father telling me that I had been mean to someone. He said, ‘There is no point in being mean to anyone at any time. You never know who you’re going to meet later in life. And by the way, you don’t change anything by being mean. Usually you don’t get anywhere.'”

4) Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple – cited by biographer Walter Isaacson

Paul Jobs was a salt-of-the-earth guy who was a great mechanic. And he taught his son Steve how to make great things.

“Once they were building a fence. And he said, ‘You got to make the back of the fence that nobody will see just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.'”

Read on for quotes from Bill Gates and Indra Nooyi.

5) Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft

“As I’ve said before, my father is the man I aspire to be. I especially admire his sense of integrity. He is one of the wisest and most calm people I know. And he taught me a lot about how to think. He is a retired attorney, and I think I inherited his lawyer’s approach to analysing problems.

“I spent a lot of Sunday dinners listening to him talk about work with my mom, who was very involved in the United Way in Seattle and at the national and international levels. They might discuss a case he was working on or an issue that she was dealing with. Eventually I started joining in the conversations, and they were very influential years later when I got involved in philanthropy.”

6) Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo

“Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent – that’s the best advice he gave me. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. 

“When you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, ‘Hey, wait a minute, maybe I’m wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort.'”

7) Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express

“If you’re going to focus on anything, focus on what you can control, my father used to say. And the only thing you can control is your performance.

“What it says to a person is you can really make a difference. You can really make a difference off your performance.”


8) Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon 

“My dad taught me the definition of motivation…that simple. He worked hard, laughed loud, and pursues his passions single-mindedly. He taught me to dream big to play full out and that I could do anything if I put my heart to it.

“My dad always believed in me – even when I did not believe in myself. I have never thought that people took me seriously. It is as if my need to ‘prove’ myself has fuelled my relentless pursuit to create a best work place, for growth and for being ‘world-famous’ for what we do. To show all those people that said to me ‘you can’t’ – that in fact I can.”