The Importance of Learning by Doing

“Kids can ruin a business.” —ABDUL HAMID BAASSIRI


When I first heard my father say these words, I was devastated. His statement seemed to come out of left field, and it bothered me so much that I spoke to my relatives about it repeatedly over the next few years. “You’ll understand the meaning of it later,” was all they would say.


I did eventually understand.  Experience is invaluable, and no one is entitled to anything…we each need to earn our place in this world. At the same time, I came to understand that the next generation in family businesses are often given a bigger role to play than they initially earn.


It’s why my father decided to set a clear framework for his children from day one, pushing each of us to learn and analyze from the collective experience around us and to earn every inch of our place in the family business.  This emphasis on education and learning was the best thing he ever did for us.  We each came to understand not only the importance of formal education, but also the necessity of learning from experience and earning your position.


Getting Somewhere by Actually Doing


After pursuing formal education, I ultimately chose to be a part of the family business. I wasn’t automatically given a position of authority, regardless of my “formal education.” I had to earn it, just like everyone else, and that learning started from the ground up.


I can tell you that wasn’t what I was thinking about when I arrived for my first day of work, however. In fact, I was dressed for the executive suite, with a nice suit on, silk tie, handkerchief, cufflinks … the whole nine yards. I walked up to my father’s desk, sat down, and said, “Okay, what’s my

job description and where’s my desk?”


He looked at me for a second and then said, “You haven’t earned a desk, Mr. GQ. You have to learn about the business first.” I was a little surprised, but said, “Okay, so where is HR going

to direct me?”


My father’s direction was one instruction: to walk around the office and chose which department I wanted to start in. Everyone in our organization had the same instructions—to teach me the basics of their particular branch of the business, what they did and how they did it from A to Z, as far as the general concept.


“At some point, I will decide when you’ve earned a desk,” he said, and with that, our conversation was over.

I went from being Mr. GQ to literally being dressed in overalls. It was a far cry from the high-status job title with the sophisticated office that I had imagined, but I was learning. In that first year, I not only learned about our companies from the ground up, but I also learned not to place so much value in status symbols, like desks and offices.  Today I don’t care about a chair or table or room. I don’t care about titles. What’s important is what you bring to the processes that can make the business better.

Real-world experience and wisdom are invaluable.  Those experiences are what allow us to establish relationships, understanding, and passion regarding the business.  In addition, there’s truth to appreciating something more when we’ve earned it.  Insisting on this kind of education is critical to any family member’s success and the future of a family business.  Stress formal education and insist on real-world learning.