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Opportunity Runs in the Family

Who has the most influence on your business career? Gary Kelly (Southwest Airlines), Mark Parker (Nike), Ursula Burns (Xerox)?  While you can glean insight from interviews or articles about them, they’ll never have the level of influence on you as those you have been mentored by.

The answer for me has to be my father, Gordon Sooy. I’ll call him ”Dad.”

As far as I know, Dad never thought of himself as an entrepreneur. To him, it's a label that dreamers and the chronically unemployable assign themselves in order to sound relevant in conversation.

Now retired, Dad still thinks of himself as a businessman.  He is a man of remarkable strength and creativity.  He never watched sports, listened to music, or played golf—his hobbies have been those of craftsmanship and creativity.

For over 50 years, he's impressed upon me that although words and planning are important, action is what matters.

He would say “It’s not what you say, it’s what you deliver.”

His interests are broad and varied, and include antique clock repair and restoration (both the mechanical and woodworking aspects); woodworking; leaded glass design; raising Nishigi koi; raising bonsai; Vespa restoration (and riding!); and making fountain pens (from the raw materials). He’s made money from many of his interests; his long-time business was selling auto parts.

If you ask him, the auto parts were just a product.  What he really sold was service.  He told his employees, “Everybody sells auto parts. We need to sell ourselves.”

He learned from reading, book after book, night after night.  He would apply what he learned. He rarely talked about his failures.  All I ever saw was the successful results of his work.

He practiced principles that aren’t taught in school, but caught at home: As the son of a farmer, he learned diligence and perseverance—you might know it as ”hard work.”  From his father, he learned the secret of relationships—of giving more than one expected to receive.  From his parents, he learned that trust—based on honesty and integrity—are the sole basis for business and relationships.

One valuable lesson I learned from him is this: Successful people look for and capitalize on opportunity.

My parents are still happily married after 50 years, and gave the three boys they raised an example of faithfulness and steadfastness that we model in our own families. What he and my mother have shown us, my wife and I have passed on to our children.

I learned honesty, authenticity, integrity, loyalty and wisdom from him.  He taught me what it means to have character, and how character applies to everything.  He taught me that people will always remember how you treated them.

I’ve come to realize that perseverance, relationships, and integrity help create opportunity. The opportunity will be to make someone feel better about themselves in the way you treat them.  You might even make money from the opportunity, but never by demeaning the other person.

When my wife says “More is caught then taught,” I have to ask myself: Have I passed along these values to my children?  Do I share them with my business team?  Do they see me practice them and not just talk about them?

Dad is always leading and teaching by example.  He expects you to learn it after he shares his instruction once; and is patient if he needs to repeat it.

That’s how I learned to think like an entrepreneur and to look for opportunity.  Listen, learn, practice, teach, lead.

Because you have to sell yourself, and people will always remember how you treat them.

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