Procter & Gamble president James Lafferty proves that the hardest job in the world is not running a business but managing a home.
No business should ever come first to raising one’s own family. That’s what Procter & Gamble president James Lafferty said to the roomful of Chinese Filipino businessmen present at the recent Anvil Exchange Forum.
The most important job in the world, he told them, was not heading a big multinational company like P&G, but being a father to your children.
So, instead of giving a lecture on product and brand development, the 45-year-old Lafferty delivered a speech that revolved around training the little ones how to become future leaders. But his child-rearing tips were far from the usual be-at-their-side-always or protect-them-no-matter-varieties. His advice to parents? Leave your kids alone and let them choose their own paths.
Let Them Be
Many parents don’t want their little darlings to suffer the way they did in their youth. They shield the children from pain and the harsh world outside. But getting banged and bruised is as much a part of developing their defenses as immunization shots are. Lafferty said the hardships he faced in life made him a strong person. “The struggle is what made me. And by depriving my children of the struggle, then they don’t get the same [valuable survival lessons].”
Lafferty had to learn to make it out on his own early in life. And fast. He became a father when he was only 20. His family ostracized him, but the young dad took full responsibility for his actions. To earn, he put up his own corporate fitness consulting company. While dispensing advice on proper diet and exercise, one of his clients suggested he try brand management. It led to his career at P&G.
The company turned him down on his first try. He wrote the bosses back and told them they made a big mistake. Interviewing applicants was not a science, he reminded them. It was an art and the three people who evaluated him weren’t very good. P&G hired him.
Probably to impart the same lessons to his children, Lafferty makes them work for their money and doesn’t pay for their schooling. He uses sports—he’s a former track-and-field coach—to teach them discipline, teamwork, and, most importantly, perseverance.
Never Say “Never”
Lafferty discouraged parents from becoming “abominable no-mans.” He said parents should say yes and let kids try things on their own and even take risks. “Often, parents protect their kids not out of love, but because they don’t want them to leave. Parents who have real love [for their children] would say ‘I’ve got to let them go.’”
Lafferty has a daughter, who wanted to stay in London and refused to go back to the US. They fought about it at first, but he eventually relented to let her prove to him that she could stand on her own.
Parents should also encourage kids to take adventures. He once grabbed a young man by his shirt and convinced him to go to South Africa. The man worked in Geneva. Lafferty told the startled employee that he’s “like 26 going on 60” and he had the rest of his life to become an “old fart.” The man decided to go and couldn’t stop thanking him ever since for the experience.
And while kids must be given the freedom to decide things on their own, that doesn’t mean parents won’t have to supervise them. Children must learn to stick to their own decisions. Their folks, meantime, have the right to demand the best from them. Quitting is out of the question.
Contrary to popular belief, parents must first be parents to their children and their friends second. Kids could always get friends in school. As a father, Lafferty would make his kids do what they have to even if it meant making them angry in the process.
His kids, for instance, once complained about the gifts they received for Christmas so he asked them to give all their presents away to poor children. It worked. The Lafferty brood learned to appreciate what they have.
The father of five also discouraged parents from outsourcing too much when it comes to raising kids. It’s a bad idea for couples to allow people they wouldn’t entrust with even the most insignificant part of their business operation to do their responsibility as parents. The sad truth is, most parents try to earn money to raise a family, but aren’t there to raise the family themselves.
“No one loves your child more than you do,” the P&G honcho reminded the forum guests. Hired help could only do so much, but in the end, the parents still have to be involved in making decisions about their child.
Live by Example
Parents, whether they like it or not, have to hold themselves to a higher standard. Talk is cheap so if children are to grow up responsible, parents have to become role models for them.
Two years ago, Lafferty was at the Nagoya airport with his wife and two kids when an old man suddenly collapsed in front of him. The old man’s son started screaming as people, all rushing to catch their flights, passed them by. Lafferty saw his kids were watching him. He couldn’t let them see him just walk away when his help was needed by others.
He knelt beside the guy and felt his pulse. There was none. He immediately ripped his shirt and gave him CPR. (He later told the Anvil businessmen CPR was so unlike the movies. First, he locked lips not with a beautiful supermodel, but a 74-year-old man. It was also messy and he was covered in blood and sweat.) After 40 minutes of chest compressions, the guy began to breathe, but was still in a comma when he was finally brought to the hospital.
The man he saved, Romeo Silva from Lipa City, survived and finally met Lafferty months after the airport incident. The two men cried when they saw each other.
Lafferty was glad to help, but showing his kids the right thing was more important. They must not step aside when faced with a similar situation. He remembered that while he was giving CPR, he looked up and saw a man and his daughter watching him. The daughter looked up and told the man, “Daddy let’s help.” The father, however, said they couldn’t miss their flight and turned away.
At that moment, the child learned that making a flight was more important than saving a human life. It showed her that one’s own interests are more important than the needs of others. Lafferty said selfishness was not something people were born with, but something that was taught to them. And the father’s decision to turn away was the beginning of the child’s education on selfishness.
“I wanted a different path for my kids, which is when someone’s dying in front of you, you stop what you’re doing and…you help,” he said. Living a life of values, after all, “…isn’t about what you have achieved; it’s about your character that defines you.”
Print ed: 11/08