Advice from My Dad for Father’s Day

UPDATED: June 10, 2014
PUBLISHED: June 10, 2014

There’s an English proverb that goes: “One father is worth more than a hundred schoolmasters.”

Fathers can teach their children many important lessons. Father’s Day is Sunday, June 15, and it brings to mind some of the valuable lessons I learned from my father, Jack Mackay. I’ve shared many of them with you in my books and columns, but here they are, in one nice package, for the millions of fathers out there.

My dad headed the Associated Press in St. Paul, Minn., for many years. He lived by deadlines. When he told his 10-year-old fishing partner, “Be at the dock at 7:30 a.m.” and I arrived at 7:35, I would be holding my fishing pole in one hand and waving bon voyage with the other. Time Management 101.

When I began my career selling envelopes, I asked my father how I could make twice as much money as my fellow sales reps. He asked me how many sales calls my peers made every day. I told him that everyone made about five calls a day, and I could match them call for call.

“No good,” he said. “Do what they do and you’ll make what they make. Figure out how you can get to 10 calls a day and your income will double.”

We worked out a game plan, which became a life plan. I learned when the buyers were in the office and worked according to their schedules, which sometimes meant anytime from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday mornings. I quit making cold calls, was among the first to get a cellphone and learned many other time-management tips from my father.

TRUST is the most important five-letter word in business and in life. When I was only 8 years old, he said: “Son, would you like to learn a lesson that might save your life someday?”

“Sure I would, Dad,” I answered.

“Just slide down the banister and I’ll catch you,” he urged.

I slid… and landed on the carpet. As I dusted myself off, he announced, “Never trust anyone completely. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you.”

Similarly, my father encouraged me at a young age to keep track of all the people I met on Rolodex cards, now on my computer. He was a master networker. He knew where to get stories, much like I learned where to get sales.

Maybe the most important lesson my father taught me was that your best network will develop from what you do best. In my case that was golf. When I joined the sales game after college, where I had been a varsity golfer at the University of Minnesota, my father suggested I join Oak Ridge Country Club, which I couldn’t afford. Because Oak Ridge was historically at the bottom of the city golf league, I offered to play for them and try to win them a championship. Six months and numerous meetings later, I was admitted to the club where I gained access to many of the major companies around town.

My father also taught me that the big name on the door doesn’t mean diddly. You have to know who the decision-makers are.

In addition, he warned me against telling anyone how I vote. That’s why it’s a secret ballot. The Democrats think I’m a Republican, and the Republicans believe I’m a Democrat.

My father’s greatest professional attribute was his nose for a good story and his indefatigable zeal in getting it. He taught me the same desire, determination and persistence for sales.

After a skiing accident that landed me in the hospital for 35 days in neck traction, he told me, “You can take any amount of pain as long as you know it’s going to end.”

My father taught me many more life lessons, among them:

• They don’t pay off on effort… they pay off on results.

• No one ever choked to death swallowing his pride.

• He who burns his bridges better be a damn good swimmer.

• Education is like exercise. As soon as you quit you begin to lose the benefits.

• It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you’re dressed like a turkey.

• If you win, say little. If you lose, say less.

• We are judged by what we finish, not by what we start.

Mackay’s Moral: One person can make all the difference in the world—a father, for example.

Harvey Mackay is a businessman and columnist. Mackay is perhaps best known as the author of five business bestsellers, including Swim With the Sharks, Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt and Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty.