A few months ago I went to a business networking function of which one of the questions raised by the host was “who is your inspirational business role model?” The answers from the crowd were either Sir Richard Branson, the late Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. No doubt all of these people were successful, well respected and highly recognised for their entrepreneurial mindsets. However I wondered how many of us had actually worked with them and understood their business insights?
When I did the TV reality show – Transformation series created by No More Practice, the same question was also raised by Dr. Nigel Finch (The Associate Dean of the University of Sydney). He asked “Caxton, who inspired your early business development?” Without any hesitation (and the fact that I didn’t have a second to think about the answer as it was a live recording) I responded with “my parents were the ones who I learnt from and who have given me the inspiration to excel through my business development journey.” And now if you asked me the same question again I would reply with the same response. So I guess you may be wondering what I have learnt from my parents?
Lesson I have learnt from my mother –
My mother previously worked as a dress maker and tailor in Hong Kong. She specialised in “hand-made” high quality garments for the high-end European market. This was before the days when garments were made in China, so the quality you could imagine was quite a high standard. I remembered at times my mother would spend over an hour just to un-stitch and then re-stitch the linen inside the garment because it wasn’t 100% stitched properly. When I asked her why she bothered going through all the trouble when people probably wouldn’t even notice the difference, her response was “Son, I might be able to get around my boss, the quality control department and the clients overseas for not doing it properly, but I couldn’t get pass myself and my own standards. People are paying premium prices for these garments so everything must be perfect. You need to learn not to take shortcuts because it could become a bad habit. Once things become a bad habit, it is difficult to change and correct.”
Lesson I learnt – Set your own standards and benchmarks. You either do things properly or don’t do them at all. And do not take shortcuts because it could become a bad habit which can be hard to change.
Lesson I have learnt from my father –
My father was previously working as a head chef in Hong Kong. He started as a trainee in his late 30’s and was gradually promoted to a head chef in just 3 years. In my opinion, he is probably the only person in Sydney who could make the most authentic Asian “Hot and Sour” soup – which is considered as a highly technical soup to make perfect.
Most restaurants ran two shifts – lunch and dinner. My father used to arrive to work at least 30 minutes earlier for both shifts, before everyone else arrived including the boss, and he was also the last person to leave the restaurant. I used to ask him why he always went to work 30 minutes earlier and worked until the last minute. Shouldn’t you knock off 30 minutes earlier since you’ve already done the hours? Did you get paid for the extra time you have put in?
His response was “Son, I get there earlier because I want to be prepared and organised. As I am the head chef I need to do a lot of planning for the day to get myself 100% ready – both physically and mentally before the doors opened. I am accountable for everything in the kitchen, including the meals and the staff. I don’t knock off early because I want to help my team with the cleaning up. I know it’s not my responsibility to help the kitchen hand but as a team we should help each other in order to create harmony in our working environment. People would always put in 110% effort when working under a good leader. “
Lesson I learnt – be organised, be prepared and be accountable in your role. Good leadership is the key factor in creating a good team and harmony within the working environment.
My parents were not highly educated, they did not run their own business and never once imagined that their son would end up running his own business, let alone in a foreign country. However, through their life experiences and work ethics, they have taught me the most fundamental business and leadership concepts and philosophies. This is something that I have and always will believe in and also share with my staff and my children. In today’s world, people are so focused on technology, social media, virtual communication etc., sometimes some of the best old school theories can be learnt from our own parents and seniors which can never be replaced.
So next time when someone asks you who inspired your business journey, perhaps think about the people around you first, they might have already given you some great advice just like my parents have. I am sure Sir Richard Branson would not mind if his name wasn’t mentioned.