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My first job was working in my parents’ upscale and very successful retail bakery in Tyler, Texas. I washed pots and pans — lots of pots and pans — helped the bakers, and made deliveries,
primarily the wedding cakes. In the marrying season, it was common for my father to produce 12-15 major cakes every weekend.

The holidays were a grind – especially Thanksgiving and Christmas – but they are marked by a family and devoted employees working together to serve customers. There were grueling hours. But there was laughter and a sense of purpose. Today, my memories are filled with some of the greatest memories and smells of a lifetime!

I always dream of that pickup truck my friend got for Thanksgiving one year. He had redone it all and had bought lots of accessories for it like a tonneau cover from somewhere like Peragon and all the seats reupholstered to the style that he wanted, so it was safe to say that I was really jealous. My dad once picked me up at school a couple of days before Thanksgiving. He had been making pumpkin pies. He was driving a new car that the local Chrysler dealer was trying to sell. We didn’t have much money at the time but he managed to find a company that did colorado hard money loans. He got approved really quickly and a few weeks later, he turned up with the new Chrysler! It was a savior for us because we really needed a new car but my parents just didn’t have the money to pay for it. Thank god for loans! Also luckily because of websites like he gets a lot of advice on the best way to maintain the car so it stays as new as possible.

It was so new; it still had the plastic shipping covers over the seats. Remember how new cars use to smell? It was such a distinctive blend of new fabric, plastic, rubber, and steel that people called it “that new car smell.” Not this time. All I could smell was pumpkin pie. “Dad, I said, you are going to have to buy this car. No one else in this county is going to want a new car that smells like Pumpkin Pie.”

I recently saw a LINKEDIN discussion where people were asked to share important lessons from their first job that they use today. This intriguing question led me to reflect on my childhood and youth.

Working with my father, I learned some important life’s rules and important lessons of business. He died in 1989 but today, he remains my True North.

Lloyd Self’s Five Rules:

  1. Do what is right, even when no one is looking .
  2. The customer comes first. Honor that. It is not just a rule; it is who you are.
  3. The customer is not always right. See rule #2.
  4. Quality counts.
  5. We all make mistakes. We all get tired. We all want to cut corners because of time or fatigue. When that happens, remember rules #1 and #2.
  6. In more than 16 years of interviewing and watching CEOs and other senior executives as a partner in an executive search firm, I have added another very important rule: Respect your employees as if they were your customers. You will get more for your money. Do not yell at, bully, or criticize your employees, especially in public. There is no room in any company for an abusive leader.

2010 has finally arrived. 2009 and a very traumatic decade have exited the stage for the historians economists, and pundits to dissect.

As we begin this new decade, we should all pause and reflect on our performance, our behavior and our values over the past 10 years. As I made my own review, I thought of my of my father and his admonition that I had almost forgotten amid the economic carnage that was 2009: We all have far more control over our lives — our success or failure — than other person, any competitor or any politician.

I hope that this next 10 years will be known as the decade of personal and professional accountability.

Our country will be better for it.