Mom wins, but dad gets tie
It wasn’t until she was about to climb out of her dad’s car that it dawned on Mary Kennedy Thompson just how uncool wearing a ROTC uniform to high school might be. Panicked, she turned to her father, Marine Col. Jack Kennedy, who told her to be proud. “By the end of the day, you’ll know who your friends are,” he said.
At 14 when she wanted to learn how to give commands to the ROTC troops, the three-time Bronze Star recipient advised her to “speak from the gut; it’s a blend of your heart and head.”
At jump school in the Marines, she called her dad to ask: “What should I think about when I’m about to jump?” He replied: “Think about landing softly.”
And as the CEO of Mr. Rooter, Thompson once again turned to her father for advice when the recession hit. He told her, whistle in the dark, everyone will hear you and follow.
No wonder Thompson, who is now the COO of the Dwyer Group, a collection of home-services brands, calls herself a “daddy’s girl.” Which is why it’s not surprising that she followed in her career-military father’s footsteps by joining the Marines. “I never knew what civilians did,” she says.
Thompson may have picked male-dominated careers, but she’s just as comfortable in her roles as wife, mother and grandma. “My dad raised some strong women,” she says of herself and four sisters (there were also four boys). “My mom told me to dream, and my dad showed me how to reach for the dream.”
Jeff Moody, CEO of Rita’s Italian Ice, grew up in a middle-class family in Maine. To illustrate, he detailed his family’s meals—franks and beans every Saturday, a plethora of noodle casseroles. They didn’t eat out a lot because “that part of Maine wasn’t the first place concepts evolved,” he points out.
And while they didn’t mind being middle class, no one wanted to be middle of the pack. “My family was very competitive,” Moody says, especially when it came to wiffle ball and cribbage. “We had massive tournaments with lots of trash talking.”
His father, James L. Moody Jr., wasn’t flashy, but he instilled in his son the joy of loving what you do for a living. As his dad worked his way up the ladder at a supermarket chain to CEO, he learned all the different departments, including butchering. Moody remembers his dad wearing home the blood-stained butcher coat to show his kids. How cool a dad is that?
When a discount supermarket chain moved into the territory, his dad matched their prices for a year, offering both heavily discounted items and superior service. “He played by the rules, but did whatever it took” to be sure they stayed in business, Moody says. It’s a lesson he’s taken to heart. When Rita’s goes into new markets, they go in with a unique offering and customized flavors. His dad never told him what to do, but steered him in the right direction—a tack he’s trying to take with his kids.
People who know attorney Lane Fisher of FisherZucker well, relish hearing the latest dad story when they meet up at industry events—or is that just me? Partly it’s because of the way Fisher tells the stories—lots of hand-waving and exaggerated facial expressions—and partly because his father is a fascinating character.
Howard Fisher is the consummate salesman. Fisher still pictures his dad with a trunk full of samples, although that was a visual from his younger days and no longer the way his dad does business.
“He is a big fan of face-to-face meetings and always encouraged me to travel to clients and trade shows to get the business,” Fisher says. “However, he always liked to impose on his ‘buyers’ by staying over at their homes.” Fortunately for his clients, that particular trait isn’t in Fisher’s DNA.
What is in his DNA is a love of flashier-than-the-average-lawyer clothes and jewelry. “Dad has a lot of style and looks like a million bucks when he gets dressed up,” Fisher says. Howard drilled into Fisher the value in looking his best, believing that the “packaging” is the first thing the customer sees.
Fisher’s parents divorced years ago, but his dad stayed an important part of his life, drifting in and out of it—but always spending the night. While he’s given myriad pointers, here’s sage advice Fisher remembers: “There isn’t anything worth buying that Costco doesn’t sell.” And “I can get you the same exact thing in China for five cents.”