The Lessons a Father Instills Can Never Be Taken Away


Do you know what this logo is and where it’s at in Grand Rapids?

This logo is what remains of the Peninsular Club on Ottawa Ave in downtown Grand Rapids. As an 8 year old boy, my father Lance, took a new job at the famous Peninsular Club as the new General Manager. His previous work had been in the private club and fine dining business (Cascade Hills Country Club and Charley’s Crab).

He became the “tour director” of the city’s oldest social club. He worked with the “who’s who” of the Grand Rapids business, social and political communities.

He spent almost 9 years there as the General Manager and I went from being an 8 year old running around the building (causing trouble, I’m sure) to a 15 year old who was asked to put on a uniform and bus tables during events.

I could have never realized then the lessons I was going to learn because my father was able to have me be a part of his work life at the Peninsular Club. There is something special about father-son businesses and work situations. The son finds out what his father is all about. And that’s exactly what happened.

Some of the lessons I learned:

1) When you find someone who is willing to work their guts out for you and treat your business like their own, pay them whatever they want. He used to say (and still says), “It will take you hiring and firing 10 other employees to find the one who will bend over backwards for you.”

2) Remember a person’s name. At the height of the Pen Club, there were over 1,000 members (most with spouses). My dad wowed me because he greeted everyone by name (always Mr. and Mrs...). Most of the time he even knew what they were going to have to drink and he’d order it for them. I would ask, “Dad, how do you remember everyone’s name?!?” and he would say, “It just takes practice Russ. When you know something is important, like remembering names, you come up with ways to remember…”  This is a lesson I try to practice daily as remembering names is easily one of the simplest ways to increase influence with another person.

3) Dress for success. As a kid I thought to myself, “why in the world does Dad have 100 suits!” Now I don’t think he actually owned 100 suits, but it seemed like to my 10 year old mind. Everyday he wore a suit and tie. Even on days he wasn’t working and had to stop in, he wore dress pants, dress shirt and a jacket. People take you more seriously when you dress like you belong.

4) Take the stairs. In a world dominated by convenience and elevators, he would always run the stairs (even in suit and dress shoes). He would sent members and guests up the elevator to the floor they needed and then would greet them as they got off the elevator (It made me think he was a Superhero whenever he did it).

5) Just because you “serve” someone doesn’t make you less than them. He helped me see that just because someone was a “member” of the club, it didn’t mean he was not on equal footing with them. They were married and had kids. He was married (still is) and had kids (still does). He saw the other person as an equal and spoke to them as if they were simply a friend he hadn’t seen in a long time. He did this with both the club members and the staff members.

Knowing my youth was spent running around a downtown Grand Rapids building, it’s no wonder that I turned out to be a city boy. My wife and I love living the urban, downtown life just around the corner from this building.

I should have known I would end up being a “city boy” living the urban life. For years my family climbed to the top roof of the Pen Club and watched 4th of July fireworks from what was then the best view of the city in my mind. My now wife even joined us in 1997 to watch the fireworks.

To think that the love for downtown Grand Rapids began way back in the 1990s for us while we were still kids is strange to think about.

My father left the Pen Club in 1998 for a new opportunity on the other side of Michigan. He was sad to leave but thought it was the natural next step in his career. Within a few years the club was having problems with new management and eventually the athletic club (that he helped build) was sold off (now MVP Metro Club) and in 2008 the last party was held in the ballroom he helped redesign in 1996.

What lessons did you learn as a kid from your parents that you use on an everyday basis? I would love to hear about them.