11 Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Work & Life

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

Ring. Ring. Ring.

The loud annoying sound of the security intercom in my apartment reverberated through the entire living room. I woke up a little irritated. It was very early in the morning.

"Why is security calling me at this ungodly hour," I asked myself as I walked to the intercom phone.

"Yes?" I said in an irritable tone.

"Hello sir, do you have a visitor ? Ms. Kamala?"

"No," I replied and hung up.

I was still in a daze. I was partly irritated because I just had a weird dream that spooked me. This dream had woken me up with a chill running down my spine. Now this.

Just as soon as I had put the phone down, the realisation that Kamala was one of my mum's oldest friends and neighbour came to me. Something was not right. I rushed to my mobile phone. There were 5 missed calls from my mum and 4 from Kamala.

My heart sank. I prayed it wasn't what I thought. I quickly called Kamala.

"Ikhram, we've been trying to call you. Something serious has happened. Your father may be no more."

Everything around me just crumbled as I tried to focus on what she said.

It was 5 a.m. on New Year's Day when I was woken by the security intercom. My father had passed away around 4.30 a.m. in my mother's arms.

The ensuing hours and days were an emotional roller-coaster. My father meant a lot to me. He was my friend. He taught me so much.

As memories of him and the things he taught me flooded my awareness in the first few days, I parried between a deep sadness on losing him and warm gratitude for having been blessed with a father like him.

In the end I've decided to propagate some of what I learned from him to continue his legacy. In this post I've distilled the most important lessons on work and life that I learned from him.

Let's begin.

My father standing behind my uncle and I. This was taken just before a golf game in Jakarta.

#1 Mathematicians Solve the World's Problems

"I want to tell you a story," my father said to me and my younger brother. It was a Sunday morning. I was 10 years old and my father was giving us a lesson in math.

We leaned in to listen. Stories excited us!

"There was once an ancient vase that was discovered by archaeologists. This vase was broken in pieces and none of the archaeologists could put it back together. Others too tried to put it together but failed. Finally, one person was called in and he solved the problem. Do you know who he was?"

"No, who was he daddy?" Both of us asked together, curious as ever.

"A mathematician. You see, with mathematics you can solve most problems. Do you want to solve the world's problems?"

"Yes, daddy!" My brother and I responded in unison.

How true this story was, I'll never know but since then, I've paid particular attention to math.

I found that math did help me with finding solutions to problems. The property investment calculator that I created, provides amazing insights for property owners. It can give you inputs like an estimate of the optimum period you should hold on to an investment property before selling it, or how much you should spend on renovations.

Many of my insights on this blog are derived from mathematical calculations. Questions like should you buy or rent for example, has an answer rooted in math.

Business plans and strategies can benefit greatly from an understanding of math and I'm not talking about complex math. An ability to simply scrutinise numbers can be very, very valuable.

#2 Entertaining Clients Is a Waste of Time and Money

In my early days as a business executive, I learned from my employer that entertaining clients was a very important aspect of business. My boss frequently took clients for golf, karaoke, lunches, and dinners.

Entertaining clients is a big part of business development in many organisations. I learned this through observation and very soon was entertaining people for business.

My father was very skilled in business development with an impressive track record. I decided to have a conversation with him one day about entertaining clients. I thought he'd be able to give me solid tips on impressing the pants off my clients.

I was surprised by what he told me.

"All the most lucrative projects that I've secured were not because I had a big entertainment budget. You may not believe this, but I did not spend much money on entertainment to secure these contracts and projects. I built relationships.

Clients who became my friends gave me the most valuable business.

If you have to take someone out for an expensive experience to win a project, you'll not get far. Focus on making friends, Ikhram."

I realised then that client entertainment was a means for everyone, including myself, to have a good time on company budget. When I calculated all the money spent on entertainment and the ROI (this is where the math comes in handy) it was clear that the benefits were minimal.

This is when I started focusing on building friendships with far better results.

This leads me to another important lesson.

#3 Big Shots Are People Too

I used to be apprehensive about trying to network with people of high stature. It wasn't that I did not like them. I felt uncomfortable. Their mighty positions and fancy job titles scared me.

"Pops, how do you do it," I remember asking my dad one day while we were having a drink together.

He had met hundreds of business leaders and very important people. I was sure he'd be able to tell me how he was so comfortable doing it.

He leaned back on his chair, looked straight at me and said, "You have to remember that big shots are people too. They need friends, they enjoy good company and they have similar wants and needs as everybody else.

When you look at positions, status and titles you can get intimidated. But when you look at the person behind all these, you'll find a human being. Someone, you can be yourself with and be of value to.

I've never feared picking up the phone to call any stranger's office because I was calling another human being. Not the CEO or director of a conglomerate.

Focus on the person... on the human being in front of you, Ikhram."

I saw this in action once when my father was working on a coal project in Turkey. He wanted to bring in a Malaysian power producer to the project. He cold called the office of the CEO, spoke to the CEO's secretary, and within a week we were sitting at the CEO's office with his vice-president.

My father pulled this off all the time. He connected with human beings. Not positions and job titles. As a result, he also treated people from all walks of life equally. I never saw him distinguish between people because of their status.

This is key to business development.

#4 The Devil Is in the Details

"Ikhram, I'll be in Kuala Lumpur in 4 days time. I need about 3 hours of your time in the evening to help me prepare a presentation."

I would cringe at these calls.

Between 2013 to 2015, he would enlist my help to prepare presentation slides. At the time, he was the country manager for an Oil & Gas company and based in Jakarta.

I cringed because I liked to do things fast. My father would go over his slides ten times and make changes until he was satisfied that all the details were covered. He needed my help because his knowledge of MS PowerPoint was limited.

This attention to detail was one reason he was the Managing Director of a multi-national Oil & Gas company at 39.

Like all average people, I cringed when I had to help him with his slides because going through details was time consuming. It required effort, attention, and focus. It consumed energy. This is the playing field of achievers.

I picked this up later and the initial irritation I had about my father's obsession with details turned to admiration.

A successful close friend once told me, "assumption is the mother of all fuckups." This is 100% true. Assumptions are made by people who are lazy to go into details. The smallest assumption can go wrong and thwart the best laid plans.

That's why successful people take care of the details.

#5 Do It Now

Procrastination is one of the world's biggest evils.

I'm not exaggerating.

Procrastination causes hundreds of problems from lost income to lost lives. Productivity suffers.

A distinguishing trait of the most successful people I've met is their natural aversiveness towards procrastinating.

My father never put off something he could do now for tomorrow. It irritated me when I was younger because he expected the sa