Business, Culture and Entrepreneurship

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lessons from my dad - Be Humble

One particular story my father had told me numerous times when I was a teenager, was about his encounter with a money lender. This was the first and only time I had ever heard my father use an expletive - a gaali - as they'd say in Benaras. The story stuck with me initially because of the unvarying way he'd narrate it, and also the way he'd point out his own outrage at being called names.

Later as an entrepreneur, when I was borrowing money (and yet again borrowing some more) and seemed to have my hand out perennially either to Angels or prospective VCs, this story really hit home.

Very early in his career, my father joined the firm that he'd spend the next 37 years at. Founded as a trading company, the firm was as cash strapped as only a growing firm could be. As my father put it in the early days of their business, they "boldly and often baldly borrowed money." Not infrequently these were at usurious rates from local moneylenders. As the young company's accountant, my dad usually was the pointed end of this borrowing thrust. The borrowing was done in the name of the proprietor (my dad's boss) but almost always singly handled by my dad.

One day they found that there were yet again in need of cash and approached a money lender from whom they had borrowed before. In fact, they were yet to pay off their previous loan. Even as they were warming up to their pitch for borrowing more money, the Shylock began abusing my dad's boss - calling his mother names. My dad was livid and about to jump on the Shylock's throat, when he felt a warning tug on his hand - his boss was practically pinching my dad's palm off. My dad got the message and kept his counsel. Soon enough, after lumping the name-calling, they had pried some money out of the curmudgeon and headed back to their office.

Soon as they were out of earshot, his boss asked him,
"Did you borrow money from him?"

"Yes," my dad replied dutifully

"Well did you return his money?"

"No of course not!"

"Then what the hell were you getting all worked up for when he abused me?"
Many a times I have felt quite sanctimonious, even outraged, at the behavior of prospective customers, partners and of course VCs. Whilst this was truer when I could be called young and hot-blooded, it's not something I have completely lost. So when that familiar feeling swells up in a meeting, I recall my father's story and his advice to be humble!