Leadership Transitions

The World’s Most Successful Dad

Published: 2008 06 15 | Views: 1830

Ron and dadMy father, Jack Prehogan, is 86 years old.  Today is Father’s Day.  If they gave out an award to The World’s Most Successful Dad (which I would define as “the man who best empowers his child(ren) to be the best they can be”),  I truly believe with all the objectivity I can muster that he would be right up there in the running if not the outright winner. 

Over the years, Dad has talked a lot about his late uncle who was a very successful businessman during Dad’s formative years.  Recently, Dad and I had an opportunity to talk about his uncle and how hard he was on his only son who never was able to achieve the success in business that his father had achieved.  I share some of that discussion here in the hope that it will be of value to family business patriarchs who perhaps have focused more on building up a successful business than on being the father they or their children wish they could be. 

First some background on Dad.  He was born in 1921 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the baby in the family with three older sisters.  His parents had recently immigrated from the Ukraine fleeing from the pogroms.  Dad’s father died in 1926 before Dad’s 5th birthday.  The family had no money so when Dad was 14 years old he had to go to work to help support the family and took his high school classes at night. 

He moved to Montreal in the 1940s to work for his uncle, the furrier.  In the late 1950s, he and his friend opened the first ten-pin bowling alleys in Canada (which carry on successfully to this day through the friend and his son’s ownership).  Dad decided in the 1960s to go into the real estate business which he carried on successfully until his retirement in the 1980s. 

Mom and Dad have been loving life ever since blessed with good health, good fortune, good friends, 3 children and 6 grandchildren.  My brother and I became lawyers and my sister, a chartered accountant, became the CFO at McGill University, the CFO at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and currently heads the asset management company for the doctors at Sunnybrooke Hospital in Toronto.  Most, if not all, of the grandchildren are professionals or on their way to becoming professionals in their chosen fields (the youngest is 19 years old and has not yet decided on a career). 

Dad has always said that “the greatest assets on his balance sheet” are his children and grandchildren.  Whenever one of us or our children did something to make him proud, he would describe the experience as “clipping coupons” (i.e. dividends on his investments).  Dad knew from an early age that what mattered in life the most was not how much wealth he accumulated but rather seeing his children and grandchildren pursue and achieve their dreams.  He and Mom have always made their family the number one priority in their lives – not by their words but by their actions. 

In our recent discussion about Dad’s uncle, I got Dad to talk a bit about himself.  According to him, the most important thing that he and Mom ever did as parents was to equip their children with the tools they needed to succeed.  Whether that meant providing us with an education to pursue our dreams, sage advice or emotional support at critical junctures in our lives, they have always been there.  Never ever judging, always supporting; never ever dividing the family,  always doing what it took to build it.

We talked about the sacrifices that are required to build a successful business including the sacrifices at home when the children are young.  It reminded me of a story Mom told me years ago about the actress Kathryn Hepburn who made the conscious decision to forsake family for her career as an actress.  To be the best you can be at a career or in business or in any single venture, something has to give.  It’s all about the choices we make.   

At the end of the day, Dad believes as do I that to be the most successful father you can be is all about balancing the things in life that are truly important.  If being a good father is important, it must be treated seriously as a job just like building a successful business. 

In my dealings with family businesses, I too often see fathers disappointed in their children in the business while those children are hopelessly fighting for their father’s approval.  In their drive to push the children to be the successes in business that they are or were,  the father can lose sight of the fact that no one can become a success at anything without the confidence to succeed . . . and that the father has a huge role to play in helping the child with that confidence.

The day after my conversation with Dad, I received an email from a 40-something child in a family business that I am working with.  The email included the following:

“(Dad has talked to us (his children) this way) all our lives and it is quite possibly why we are the way we are.  One of us may have been a true entrepreneur but when you’re constantly criticized for doing something that you think is right or good, especially by a father you love, it wears you down –  believe me, IT REALLY WEARS YOU DOWN.”

As Dad said in our recent discussion:

  • “you can’t leave the job of being a father to anyone else”

  • “you’ve got to show your kids love and support; for without that what do they have?”

  • “the most important thing a father can give his children is the respect they deserve and the opportunity to spread their wings”.

Great pearls of wisdom, Dad, thank you for sharing.  Happy Father’s Day and best wishes for many more in good health.  As you always say, “we’re the richest guys in the world”.  I love you to pieces.

- Ron

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