Lessons from the fathers of Arkansas entrepreneurs

by Todd Jones ([email protected]) 171 views 

Whoa, tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree / It’s been three long years

Do ya still want me (still want me) / “Tie a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree” – Tony Orlando

Growing up, I didn’t know what entrepreneurship was. Most of us didn’t. There were business owners and other types of self employees but, entrepreneurship, it wasn’t on my radar in rural Arkansas.

My father had a couple of “night jobs” when I was a kid. They were both pretty cool. The first “night job” he had was being a disc jockey at the local AM radio station. He spun such tunes as “Tie a Yellow ribbon round the old oak tree” by Tony Orlando. It was the mid-seventies.

That was pretty cool, hearing your dad on the local radio station.

His other “night job” is the one that led to a love that holds still to this day. He became the public address announcer at the Independence County Speedway in Locust Grove, Arkansas. This was the local dirt track.

I fell in love with the cars, the colors and watching them drive around that quarter mile, clay oval dirt track.

My dad taught me to work harder than the boss expects. He was harder on my brother and me than any employee could.

My grandfathers had some entrepreneurship in them as well.

My mother’s father was a farmer. He simply loved the land. He really didn’t care much about working for someone else either. No matter how hard it got, he kept on plugging. He exemplified hustle before modern day entrepreneurs began talking about the word.

My other grandfather owned a general store when we were little. One of my best memories was getting a bottle of soda out of the old time soda machine. That old store is what nostalgia was made of. I love seeing old general stores driving down the road.

I wondered what kind of life lessons and entrepreneur wisdom some of our entrepreneurs today learned from their fathers, so I asked.

David Wengel, iDatify

My dad was an entrepreneur as well and he taught me that you could run a successful business and be a great father.  One of the benefits of being an entrepreneur is that you put yourself in control of your time.  My dad didn’t just “make” time for me, he showed through his actions that his family’s happiness was his true priority in life.  I have never forgotten that.  I wouldn’t be half the dad, or entrepreneur for that matter, without those life lessons from my father.

Brett Amerine, Startup Junkies

Most things that are worth doing are hard. If they were easy, everyone would do them. This includes starting, operating, and scaling businesses.

Christie Ison, AR Food Jobs

My dad was a transmission engineer for Entergy (and AP&L before they merged). He designed or had a hand in most of the big transmission towers you see around the state. He did this without a college degree, which involved all kinds of engineering and math that were way beyond me.

The main thing I learned from my father was a killer work ethic. If there was a job you’re supposed to be doing, do it to the best of your ability, whether anyone is looking or not. It was almost a guilt complex he had, in a good way. He wasn’t one to come to work super early or stay late (he clocked out exactly at 5 every day), but he always got way more done than seemed humanly possible.

Whenever I feel like slacking off, I get that pang of guilty conscience and I know exactly where it came from.

Jeff Amerine, Startup Junkies

My Dad, LtCol Bud Amerine, USAF (retired) is the man I admire most. He grew up poor in the Depression on a small wheat farm in central Kansas.

He had a dream to fly when he was young after seeing a barnstormer at a county fair.  It didn’t look like that would happen for him because when WWII started he wanted to volunteer but wasn’t able to because my grandfather had put him in for a farm deferment i.e. he was deemed essential to the war effort.  The law changed when he was 19 in 1943 and one day when his parents weren’t home, he rode his horse, Prince, to town and volunteered to be a Naval Aviator.  He spent two years in Naval Aviation Cadets and then the war ended in 1945.  He thought his dream of flying and serving might be over.  From 1945-1947 he worked in the oil fields in Kansas.  Still, he knew this was not his dream.  He entered Air Force pilot training in 1948 and was commissioned in 1949.  The next 26 years included combat missions in Korea and Vietnam flying nearly every multi-engine aircraft in the inventory.  He even served as an ICBM missile launch officer during the missile crisis and survived an aircraft crash during the Invasion of Inchon in Korea.

Some kids watched their heroes on TV.  My hero was my Dad.  The lessons I learned from him were simple and timeless:

– Work hard

– Be honest and fair

– Take care of your team

– Stay calm when others are not

– Never give up

He was never an entrepreneur.  He was a leader that was a real part of the “greatest generation”.  My Dad will be 92 in October.  He has lived a worthy life that raised 5 great kids, lots of grandkids and great grandkids and 63 years of marriage to a feisty lady named Marge Renfro, my Mom, the love of his life who passed away in 2013 after an 8-year battle with Alzheimer’s.  In short, my Dad is the real deal and someone I owe everything to.

Unni Peroth, bfonics

I learned the basics of business from my dad. He used to be a farmer, then started a spices trading business back in India. I got a chance to work with him during my college days and learned a lot of things from our family business.

Per my dad, the standard one walks past is the standard one accepts. Per him, it is about picking a small set of non-negotiable rules that matter to you most and enforce them ruthlessly. Per him, sales fix everything. You can screw up everything else and get through it if your product sells well.

I miss him and feel that I could have done much better if he was around to advise and mentor me throughout my startup life.

Roxane Martino, iProv LLC

My dad taught me at a very young age that I can be whatever I want to be and do whatever I want to do, but for that to be 100% true, I have to be my own boss. I have 3 siblings, and we are all entrepreneurs; we all own our own businesses. My dad was a dreamer and a visionary, and he made sure his kids were too.

RJ Martino, iProv LLC

My father was a military recruiter and he had an uncanny ability to connect with anyone. My father would light up the room with a warm smile and a good attitude. He taught me that building real relationships with real people in the real world is one of the most important assets that I would ever build over my career. By learning how to get along with other people and helping them get what they wanted – they would, in turn, help me get what I wanted. I could not have asked for a better life lesson.

What kind of lessons did your father pass down to you? What lessons do you wish to pass down?