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How my dad taught me to be a leader - by Derek Christian

While I look up to him for his success, I am even more proud of how he did it.

My dad, George Christian, passed away 13 years ago this October. I feel a need to tell you all about him. I am not sure why. Maybe because I think it will help you understand me or at least what I strive for. Maybe because I am just so proud of him and I want to tell anyone who will listen. Actually, I am pretty sure it is from pride. I had always loved him as a father, but as I got older he became my role model for work and life. 

How He Got There

Many of you know my father was a successful businessman. He is not my role model because of his success but because of how he got there. My dad was a high school drop-out who started his adult life working at Arby’s, yet he achieved the position of General Manager of a $500 million public company. He then went on to found and grow a company from scratch to $30 million in just four years. While I look up to him for his success, I am even more proud of how he did it. I remember him always telling me to be nice to people because you meet the same people on the way down that you do on the way up. I have yet to meet anyone that even knows anyone that did not like him. Below is an excerpt from a book that one of his co-workers and work rivals wrote for his family. The most interesting parts about this paragraph are twofold. First, their friendship started when my dad got a job he felt he deserved more. The author wrote at length in other parts of the book about how cheated he felt when my dad got this job instead of him. Second, my dad never considered him one of his close friends, just one of many work buddies. Yet he touched this man enough that he wrote about him in his book as a role model for his own children.

“Most of my pals would be generally described as good people—nice guys. From my perspective, none more so than George. Even when he was angry with someone, or about something, it never seemed malicious. I don’t think he has a malicious bone in his body. The only other person I’ve ever said this about is my daughter Kelly. George lives up to his surname. George was recruited to BancTec in 1995 by Nort Stuart. In the early going we were friendly but moved in different circles. We started to get more close when he became VP of Sales under Phil. This was the episode that annoyed me so much in my career chapters. George exhibited a lot of empathy and I view this as the start of a warm and lasting friendship. In later organization moves I succeeded him in that job and we became peers. During those last two years of my tenure at BancTec we began to share our feelings and hopes for our families as well as our careers. I came to understand how fiercely committed he was to his wife Bev and their two sons. I always admired that.”

Teaching Respect by Example

There are some other lessons I learned from watching my dad for both work and life in general. What is amazing to me is looking back I cannot ever remember him telling me any of this. I just learned it all from watching him. First, always try to make the days of the people around you happier and NEVER treat anyone with disrespect. Even though my dad achieved success, he never treated anyone as his lesser. He always tried to make the tired check-out clerk laugh. He always held doors open. He always called the woman cleaning the office “ma’am” or by name when he asked for something. Even at the end when he was in great pain at the hospital, he tried to make people laugh and usually succeeded. I watched this over the years and learned that this is the way I wanted to live. I saw that he felt great joy every time he could make someone smile. I also saw the way it endeared people to him. His entire stay in the hospital, the nurses used to fight over who got to watch him. In the last week of his life, the nurses were taking turns taking 4 hours out of their free time, unpaid, to help us take my dad outside for an hour or so each day. A lot of the success I have had in this business was by asking myself, “What would my dad have done?” As much success as Shawn and I have had in our respective cleaning businesses, we have both often commented that if he was still here we would have taken over the country already.

Have Fun and Never Give Up

Second lesson, always try to have fun and never give up. My dad had so many opportunities to be defeated. So many excuses to stop trying. He dropped out of high school. When I was born he was working at Arby’s as a cashier. His first attempt to better his family was a computer and business supplier store that went out of business. At almost 30 he was forced to move back in with his mom with a wife and two kids because he did not have any money. His first real employer, Olevetti, fell apart around him. His second employer, BancTec, pushed him out in a political overthrow. After finally achieving his dreams for his career and life, he was hit with Leukemia at the age of 56. Yet he was never defeated. He never gave up. He had some very bad times but I don’t remember him ever being anything but up-beat and ready to move on. Even in the last week of his life, he was sad to be leaving us, but was always more grateful for the great life he had. We stayed up late laughing a lot that last week. And as to the fun, well I would need to make this story about 10 pages longer just to share of fraction of the happy memories he left me with.​

Derek Christian has been involved in the cleaning industry for more than 20 years and is an owner or investor in several cleaning companies including My Maid Service Dayton and Real World Services Columbus, and now he works as a sales and marketing consultant for Castle Keepers

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