As with most folks, in the days leading up to the 3rd Sunday in June, my thoughts turn toward my own father. At the age I am now, there really are too many lessons to organize into short blog, but I will try to share a few that made the most impact on me.

My father earned his living in the commercial printing industry, just as his father had done before him. (Not with the same company, but within the same industry in Nashville.) Beginning his career as an 18 year old “runner”, he worked his way up to lead pressman after returning from a 2 year stint in the Korean War. Primarily because of his religious attention to detail and keen eye. Realizing that even this increase in salary was insufficient for his growing family, he made the move into the office functions of the company by becoming an estimator and production scheduler.

Moving into the front office functions of the business eventually lead him into sales and before he left that company after 30 years, he had been promoted to Executive VP Marketing & Sales. I remember him grumbling about the “Executive” part of his title, saying it was simply because he was making too much money on a straight commission structure. So they gave him a salary, a title, and cut his commission percentage. Corporations!

5 Lessons Learned From My Dad


Never let the sparkle of a title blind you to the underlying truth.

That was lesson #1 from my dad: never let the sparkle of a title blind you to the underlying truth. He had a big office, and a club membership, yet underneath he bristled because he felt he could achieve so much more.


Properly utilized education makes the pathway to success smoother.

From errand boy to EVP is an impressive climb for a fellow who quit school in the 10th grade. After returning from Korea he had finally obtained his GED and gone on to achieve a two year Business Degree from UT night school, but it was a common theme that he always regretted his educational path.

That was lesson #2 from my Father: Properly utilized education makes the pathway to success smoother. My brother adhered to that better than I, since he has a Ph.D., but whatever.

When I graduated from UT with my Bachelors, Dad left his long time employer (partly because of the EVP thing) and we started a printing company together, naming it Cantrell Graphics. We grew it into a 13 employee firm before selling it several years later to a larger company that had come knocking.

In retrospect, it was a marvelous experience to have worked side by side with my father although at the time, there was a lot of friction and disgruntlement, mostly because of my attitudes. I wanted to grow rapidly, he wanted to ease along at a steady pace. Try telling that to a 22 year old Phillip! Rather than divorce the family, we divorced the company and sold it off.


Working with family rarely works out to be a positive experience.

Which leads us to lesson 4. 


Business partnerships rarely work well without a written structure of responsibilities.

We had a structure, but the family thing kept blurring the boundaries. Yet to be totally honest, I squandered a lot of opportunity.

As with most child/parent relationships, as I grew older I developed a greater appreciation for his knowledge and wisdom. Eventually coming to the point where I often sought his input on business decisions after arriving at mid-career in the printing industry. Once I moved over to the real estate industry, we had less in common along those lines than before, but I know he was extremely proud of our successes. Commercial printing is a mature industry, it’s a commodity product, and you’ll lose a 20 year client over three cents per thousand. It’s a brutal, brutal world and my dad was the one who tutored me through that education process. Having “cut my business teeth” in commercial printing, breaking into the real estate industry really was not all that hard.


If you are on a path that is not hitting the goals, change direction.

While it took time and preparation to be able to break out of a 20 year career, the only regret I have is that I didn't do it 10 years earlier.

My dad passed away in 2012 from Parkinson’s. The last 3 years of his life, I was his primary caregiver and we had many conversations during that time. He loved his wife of 60 years, he raised two successful sons, and he was a leader in his church until health determined otherwise. He was a good man and I know that he is in Heaven. I wish I could pick up the phone right now and talk to him. Someday I know that we will rest under the shade tree together and share many interesting stories.

My goal in life is simply to be half the man my father was.

phillip cantrell and father

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