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by Kristina Rudic | March 02, 2016


Whether fresh out of college or a longtime veteran of the workforce, career advice is always readily accepted. From Ted Talks to countless blogs, there is no lack of career advice to be found on the internet. The surprising thing, however, is that almost all of this advice is channeled to us through strangers. Sure, we may have seen their face or name before, perhaps even admire their work, but rare is it that we know the person who’s sending advice our way. In order to accept advice, the recipient must trust the source, and what better source than parents? Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, identified this when he said:

“If you asked every person in the world who gave them their best advice, it is a safe bet that most would say it was their mother. I am no exception. My mother has taught me many valuable lessons that have helped shape my life. But having no regrets stands out above all others, because it has informed every aspect of my life and every business decision we have ever made.”

Branson’s assessment is another comment on why parental influence in a child’s development is crucial. Not surprisingly, the things we are taught from an early age become engrained in who we are as we develop and mature to make our own decisions. Although the human brain (most likely) develops by the age of 25, it is the information we absorb before this that impacts how we develop and what determines our personality. For many of the world’s foremost leaders and entrepreneurs, the best advice came from those that shaped their childhood: their parents.

Here, they share the best career advice they ever received from mom or dad:  

Walt Bettinger, President & CEO of Charles Schwab: “The best advice I’ve ever received came in a simple reminder from my late father: ‘Most things in the world can be bought or sold, but not a reputation.’ With these few words of great wisdom, my father instilled in me a framework for behavior, interactions with others, and decision making that shapes my actions every day.”

Dame Jane Goodall, Founder of Jane Goodall Institute: “My mother used to tell me when I was a child dreaming of going to Africa and living with animals and everybody was laughing at me, ‘If you really want something, you work hard, take advantage of opportunity, and never ever give up. You will find a way.’”

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn: “As a child, I can't recall a day that went by without my dad telling me I could do anything I set my mind to. He said it so often, I stopped hearing it ... It wasn't until decades later that I fully appreciated the importance of those words and the impact they had on me.”

Martha Stewart, Founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia: “The best advice I’ve ever received was from my father when I was 12 years old and willing to listen. He told me that with my personal characteristics, I could, if I set my mind to it, do anything I chose. This advice instilled in me a great sense of confidence, and despite the fact that sometimes I was a little nervous, I stepped out and did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I think it really often is up to the parents to help build confidence in their children. It is a very necessary part of growing up.”

Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market: “One piece of advice is from my mom: ‘Have the courage to go and do what you believe.’ Most people can see things, but they don’t have the courage to go do it and try something."

Gretchen Rubin, Author and Blogger: "My father: 'If you’re willing to take the blame when you deserve it, people will give you the responsibility.' This was perhaps the best advice for the workplace I ever got."

Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP & Founder of The Chopra Foundation: “The best advice I got in life came from my parents. From an early age they impressed upon me through their words and actions that ‘True success comes from self-power.’ I was told that my core being was a field of infinite possibilities, infinite creativity, comfortable with uncertainty, synchronicity, and imbued with the power of intention and choice. These simple principles have guided my entire life and my journey as a physician and healer.”

Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest: "One day, after some petty humiliation, I came home in tears. My mother sat me down and told me, in a voice that I thought of as her 'telephone voice' (meaning, reserved for grown-ups), that I should ignore the girls [from school]; the only reason they were treating me poorly was because they were jealous of me. Therefore I should ignore the chattering crowds and set my own course."

Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group: “My father told me to find something you enjoy doing, work hard at it and develop a reputation in the field, and then, if you want to start something on your own, go ahead. If you enjoy your work, then it is not work. This goes against current conventional wisdom, which encourages flitting from job to job.”

Kim Jeffery, former Chairman & CEO of Nestle Waters North America: “It came from my father actually: ‘Decide what you really like to do and build on it. Find something that you have a passion for.’ I’ve heard people say, ‘I want to make a lot of money. I want to get rich.’ But the way to get rich is not to think about what can I do to get rich. It’s to find a passion, and if you find a passion and you really do well at it, chances are you’re going to do just fine in your career.”

Steve Collis, President & CEO of AmerisourceBergen: The best advice I have ever received came from my father: “It’s not how you start the race, it’s how you finish it.”

Robert B. Pollock, CEO of Assurant: “When I was growing up, I noticed that my mom spent a lot of time on the phone in silence. She’d be on the phone for an hour but would only talk for a few minutes. I asked her why she didn’t talk more, and she said, ‘You learn the most when your mouth is closed and your ears are open.’”

Indra Nooyi, Chairman & CEO of PepsiCo: “My father always told me to assume positive intent. That meant, if someone said or did something that seemed bad or wrong, rather than getting mad, he would say, ‘Let’s think why he did that.’ He was sending me a strong message to consider different points of view. I struggled with the concept, but whenever I applied the lesson, I always came out ahead.”

Jim Lillie, CEO of Jarden Corporation: After graduating from college, I would go to my father’s office late at night, after everyone had left, to use the IBM Selectric typewriter to send out resumes. I wanted to get a job in human resources. After what seemed like an eternity of letter writing, which in fact was only about four weeks, I received offers from two companies in Chicago. One was with Wendy’s as a recruiter for $24,000. The other, lower paying offer was as an HR generalist at an automotive company. When I discussed the offers with my dad, he told me to take the job that would give me the experience I wanted and the best foundation for growth, sage advice. My father also told me that, since I was an unemployed lifeguard living at home, $18,000 was still $18,000 more than what I was making. I took the lower paying job.

Michael F. Mahoney, President & CEO of Boston Scientific: “The best advice I ever got was from my father. He is a big believer in being true to yourself and others, but also in dreaming big. As a leader, I try to encourage my team to be bold and to embrace calculated risks. At the same time, we should be authentic and grounded in the realities of business today. Good leaders put their teams first and create an environment where employees feel empowered to share ideas and feedback. Invest in your people and they will be invested in your business.”

T. Boone Pickens, Founder BP Capital/Oil Tycoon: “My father told me ‘Son, you’re starting to listen to too many people.’ He told me three questions to ask myself when someone is giving me advice.
1- Is this person smart? If they are not, then move on.
2- Do they have a conflict of interest?
3- Do they love me? Do they have my best interest in mind?”

Virginia Marie “Ginni” Rometty, Chairman, President & CEO of IBM: (On her single mom) “The thing she taught us, she never said…Mom taught us by her actions:
1- Action speaks louder than words.
2- Nothing is insurmountable.
3-Don’t let others define you, you define yourself.

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