My Dad’s Company Fell Into My Lap When He Died Suddenly. Here’s What I Learned About Building My Own Business.
At 25 years old, I had no idea how to run my dad’s business.
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In 2005, my father perished in a small plane crash, misled by the air traffic controller right into the center of a thunderstorm. His untimely death, now 13 years ago, left me, his 25-year old daughter, at the helm of his rags-to-riches empire. I had very little knowledge of his companies, nor any innate knowledge of what it took to come from nothing and create something. I was devastated.
My dad was born in Brooklyn in 1952. He was charismatic and passionate from the beginning. He went to high school at Brooklyn Tech and scored in the 97th percentile of the chemistry Regents Exam. He was fascinated by alternative energy sources long before it was “chic” to give a damn. He detoured college and instead moved to the Catskills to begin experimenting with turning chicken waste into fuel and how to transport hot water underneath flooring for alternative heat sources. Fast-forward into my youth, and he became one of the founding fathers of radiant heating, solar energy technology and the orchestrator of many international co-generation power projects, making major impact around the world.
I always knew my dad was special but I had no idea what he had created or what kind of skills he utilized on a daily basis to make his many visions come to life. It wasn’t until I was thrust into his world under some of the most shocking grief any young person can imagine, that I really had any comprehension of the complexity of his business life. Now many years later, an entrepreneur myself, a mother of two and a woman creeping closer to 40, I can finally look behind myself and see some of the key truths I’ve uncovered as I’ve bridged the gap from what I inherited and eventually took the leap to create something of my own.
Here are a few of the most important things I’ve learned:
1. Never feel ashamed for not having all the answers.
I knew very little about business, finance, legal, taxes or managing employees. I couldn’t pretend I did. I learned how to ask good questions and ask for more time if I needed to ponder something. I was lucky to have a solid, trusted team around me and I relied on them.
Now, as I’ve launched my platforms for women and mothers, I’m comfortable with stating what I’m not good at and have gotten great at recognizing the talent of others who can strengthen my team. I rely on them and what they know to get the job done.
2. Have confidence in your innate skill set.
I do not hide from stating and embracing what I know are my unique talents. I watched my father do this without shame and watched the leader he came to be. I am very strategic and organized, and an excellent communicator, writer and speaker. I use as much of these skills as possible.
3. Lead with compassion.
Business is business, but business is made up of humans. I remember when my father paid for the funeral of the wife of one of his factory worker when she unexpectedly passed. There was simply no money to honor her and my dad didn’t blink. He did what was right for a fellow human being.
This is also how I try to operate. I embrace flexibility so my team can take excellent care of themselves, visit their families and pursue their creative side hustles. Because of this I have a grateful, motivated team.
4. Intuition is key.
When you have very little knowledge, as I did back in 2005, you have no choice but to utilize your intuition to navigate your path. On many occasions, I leaned into what simply felt right and away from that which felt strange. I use this technique now. I follow what feels joyful to me and watch how good things flourish from there.
5. Tell your story.
By simply navigating hard times and having the gumption to pursue the non-traditional path, I’ve realized that I can inspire other people. My dad knew this: He wrote a book, made a documentary film and spoke in front of groups whenever he felt his message could make a difference. I’m doing the same: publishing my first book this past year, telling my story weekly on Facebook Live and leading talks, workshops and retreats on how to thrive in the midst of motherhood and womanhood. It’s not that anything is perfectly baked but simply that I’m living my story truthfully and sharing it with an open heart — that’s where the inspiration lives.
I’m watching with curiosity at how my own story is unfolding. I’ve learned through unexpected loss that the girl who must navigate what she never thought she’d have to, can grow into a woman full of heart, creativity and a sense of entrepreneurship of her own. And that’s the story I will continue to tell.