How Dad's best advice led 15 women in business to succeed | Ladders

"Do it now. If not now, when?"
Parents @ Work

How Dad’s best advice led 15 women in business to succeed

Between the truly terribly-wonderful dad jokes, the candid humor and the smart advice, good fathers can have a way of changing their daughters’ lives.

Dad was the best mentor for some female entrepreneurs, who have built careers that then built successful companies. Often times, the targeted, personal and kind-hearted business advice from their fathers has provided that extra jolt of motivation they need to keep going.

I have been taught that hard times are survivable because at the end of the day everything is survivable.

In honor of Father’s Day, we asked successful women to share the fatherly wisdom that’s helped shape them— not only as people, but as business leaders. Let their experiences inspire you to take that next leap in your career. 

“Always negotiate your salary.”

“Before my first job interview, I asked my father what salary range I should ask for. His advice was this: ‘As in any negotiation, if they don’t laugh at your first number, it was too low.’”

—Cheryl Eisen, Founder and President of Interior Marketing Group

“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“I have to thank my dad for guiding me in being an successful entrepreneur today. I’ve been working with my dad since I was 7 years old, and behind my success is the support of my family. My dad once  told me, ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get.’ What he meant by ‘working hard’ is doing what you love and being 110% in it.  Everything we do requires work, so the harder you work, you can achieve your goals in being a successful entrepreneur. This also puts you in the right positions and opens up opportunities and increases luck! And you know what they say… ‘It’s better to be lucky than to be good.’ That advice gave me the strength and power to do what I do everyday without feeling like it’s ‘real work.’”

—Rolan Pongpuntara, founder of Chomp Eatery

“You have to play with the best of them.”

“My father was a successful soccer coach at Stanford University for many years. And while my father and I never had a close relationship, one thing always brought us together: soccer.

The best advice he ever gave me was this, ‘Erika, if you want to be good at soccer, you have to play with the best of them.’ What my father was saying was to improve your skills as a soccer player, you must surround yourself with people that are better than you. They will push you to, in turn, work harder. You will learn things from them and you will try to meet their skill, even if you can’t entirely.

Because of his advice, I really did believe that I could and would ‘do it’ – even it if it was hard at the time.

This advice sticks with me today, as I work in the field of couples therapy. I see couples, marriages and individuals sometimes at their darkest hours in life. And while I am decades past my training as a soccer player, I use the same advice to this day: I attend the workshops and seminars of the greatest couples therapists in the world. I watch. I learn. I train. I remember the advice of my father.”

—Erika Boissiere, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco

“If not now, when?”

When I first moved to New York City from Virginia in 2006, a wide-eyed recent college grad, I didn’t have a job, had little to no savings and told my family: ‘Trust me. I’ll figure it out.’ While understandably there was some tentativeness from family members, I’ll never forget my dad saying ‘Go. Do it now. If not now, when?’ from the very beginning.

His advice to go for it, to never stay complacent, represents a rebellious nature I’ve always had in me, that’s largely been inspired by my father. As a young Japanese-American growing up in Tokyo on an American military base, he rebelled early on. As the family legends tell it, skipping class in kindergarten to ride solo into the city to discover what Tokyo had in store, to rebelling against racism in 1970s Virginia when his family moved there and he grappled with his identify as ‘other’ in a school where the only other Asian American student was his brother. That same supportive advice he gave me when I moved to New York City became even more palpable when I took the biggest step of my career, taking the leap to go full time as a co-founder of Shine. He said to me, ‘Go. Do it now. If not now, when?’ I’m so glad I did. Thanks, Dad.”

—Naomi Hirabayashi, co-founder of Shine

“Nothing is ever handed to you.”

“I’m forever grateful for all of the advice my dad (and father of 5!) shares with me and my siblings – but the insight that’s always resonating with me most is that nothing is ever handed to you.

Whatever struggles or oppression any of us faces, it can be tempting to point to our circumstance as to why we don’t have that job, the money, that apartment, the praise of our peers, etc. While circumstance is not to be taken lightly and is a very real part of our identity—our resilience and our ability to improve our situations is what makes us successful. If want big things to happen in our lives, we have to make the happen—despite everything and everyone that may try to make it harder for us. He is stronger for the things he’s faced in his life and I am stronger for mine. That’s something that will always motivate and stay with me.”

—Marah Lidey, co-founder of Shine

My dad always reminds me to do what I love and the money will follow.

“Work hard and trust yourself.”

“People say I am successful because I am my father’s daughter. The best advice he ever gave me was to ‘work hard’ and ‘to trust yourself, you can do it.’ This was so impactful to me because for the during Ever-Pretty’s early years, I ate, slept and breathed Ever-Pretty. I use sleep lightly here, because even when I slept, I dreamed about the company. If I hadn’t worked so hard I would never be where I am today. His advice to trust myself really got me through the hard times. Because of his advice, I really did believe that I could and would ‘do it’ – even it if it was hard at the time. Whenever I was down, his advice would help me believe I could get back up.”

—Anna Shi, CEO, president and founder of Ever-Pretty

“Deliver beyond your expectations.”

“It will not only gain you loyalty but gain trust with your clients. This advice rings true to most people’s career choice but mine specifically as an event planning/production business. There are so many details, and I always try to have at least one surprise element the client wasn’t expecting. It could be a simple decor piece or a food choice to let them know I was listening and also understand their vision. It is impactful advice because in a world of options and endless Google searches, it comes down to delivery to obtain and retain clients.”

—Sarah Sebastian, Owner of Rose Gold Collective

“Do what you love.”

My dad always reminds me to do what I love and the money will follow. He has taught me by example that finding your passion and turning it into your career will make you successful and leads to a much more fulfilled life. I am fortunate that I have truly found my calling in entrepreneurship.”

—Alice Rossiter, Founder of Alice’s Table

“Always keep your word.”

“The best advice my dad gave me goes for life and business. He told me to always be honest and keep my word to people. It may be the littlest thing as promising a resume (or another product) in a week and delivering it on time, but this matters to clients and customers. Admittedly, this can be difficult in the business world. But, my dad’s advice has really served me well, and I always try my best to follow it.”

—Neely Raffellini, Founder, 9 to 5 Project

My dad’s response made me realize how much faith he had in me, and bolstered my faith in myself.

“Keep looking ahead.”

“Some of the best career advice my Dad has given me is to keep moving forward with my dreams even when things are hard. Starting a business is definitely not for the faint of heart and my dad has always encouraged me to focus on the progress I’ve made and to keep looking ahead. Just like life, there will be ups and downs and my Dad’s support has always helped keep me on track. While simple, having this advice has always helped bring things back into perspective and moving forward.”

—Anna Osgoodby, co-founder of Bold & Pop

“Study what you’re interested in.”

“Back in college, I remember not knowing what to major in and turning to my dad for help. His response surprised me. He told me that I wasn’t someone he thought had to go to college to be successful afterwards, that I should major in something I enjoy learning about, because regardless of whether or not I would use that after college, it would give me a wealth of knowledge that was important to me. My dad’s response made me realize how much faith he had in me, and bolstered my faith in myself. It made me view college as an experience, not something I needed to be successful. I ended up majoring in Environmental Studies and Geography and Urban Studies. Now as a fashion designer, I’m in a completely different field, as he suspected, but I apply the education I got by focusing on sustainable materials and ethical manufacturing. I’ve never forgotten that advice, and so far it has served me well. Thanks for believing in me, Dad, and teaching me to believe in myself!”

—Avi Loren Fox, founder and CEO of WildMantle.com

To have a goal and to believe wholeheartedly that it is possible, even when the evidence may show it is not.

“Keep learning.”

My dad always encouraged me to pursue a good education: he set high standards for me and emphasized how a good education would enable me to pursue my dreams. His story really motivated me because he was a professor in China who moved to the U.S. for grad school and eventually became a successful entrepreneur. He is constantly learning himself and is still mastering new things all the time, he recently picked up acting and is starring in a feature film that will be released this summer! I am so inspired by his zest for learning throughout life.”

—Coral Chung, Founder and CEO of Senreve

“To not follow his advice.”

The best business advice I ever got from my dad was to never work for myself. He hated the financial fluctuations in the family business he inherited from his father and grandfather. And for a long time, I followed his advice, but after too many years as a mediocre sales rep with similar financial fluctuations, I realized I’d rather control my own choices and clients. When I launched my first business in 2005, he could not have been more proud, and now with The Rising Tides, he can see the real impact my work makes on women in the workplace. I think because of his advice, I approached each venture realistically and deliberately, and still seek lots of input from others.”

—Eileen Scully, Founder, The Rising Tides

“Make a goal and believe in it wholeheartedly.”

“I founded quarterlane a year ago and over the course of the these many months, I find myself returning to my dad’s advice daily: ‘to have a goal and to believe wholeheartedly that it is possible, even when the evidence may show it is not.’

The first time I found myself putting this advice into practice was my senior year in high school. I had applied early decision  to the college of my dreams and was waitlisted. My chances to go were much better during the early decision round, and so my first reaction was to give up. Yet my dad reminded me to keep my dream in sight and get to work. I felt confident in my writing, so I sent this college every single writing assignment I did for my English class that spring. I would just pop the paper in the mail with a little note. And it worked! I was accepted! Many other times I have returned to this advice to put practice behind faith, especially now with quarterlane. Creating something new is a leap of faith — that is simply what it is! And once you leap, it’s the 100% faith, commitment and then the little right actions toward the goal that make all the difference.”

—Elizabeth Lane, Founder of quarterlane

“Do not quit.”

“At 63, I challenged my dad to run a half-marathon with our whole family of non-runners. He had never run more than a mile in his life, but signed up. He ran through knee injuries, below zero temperatures and the muddy dirt roads of Maine in the Spring. Then on race day, he ran, despite his pain, every step of the way.

My dad doesn’t quit.  He keeps going regardless of any obstacle; and, he taught me and my two sisters to do the same. He doesn’t talk about it; he just does it. He has “Libbygrit” – the intangible inner willpower to persevere. He never told us what to do, he developed in us the willpower to figure it out and he let us test our mettle endlessly with the same challenges he gave our brothers.  As an entrepreneur nothing has helped me get through tough situations better than the knowledge that I’m made from Libby grit, that I’m raised with Libby grit, that I have been taught that hard times are survivable because at the end of the day everything is survivable.”

—Kristina Libby, CEO of SoCu

Lindsay Tigar is a seasoned lifestyle and travel writer. When she's not busy writing, she's collecting another passport stamp, taking a boxing class or trying new foods. A full collection of her work can be found at lindsaytigar.com.