When my father Ira Fulton was just 12 years old, his father stood him in front of a mirror and said, “Ira, this is your competition. Don’t compare yourself to others; just compare yourself with you.” Years later, my father would repeat this scenario, but now he was the father and I was the mirror image.
On this Father’s Day I am thankful for the many lessons my father instilled in me, ones I have passed on to my children. These lessons of hard work, being honest and relying on one’s own abilities were implanted in him from his own parents who, like many, struggled through the Great Depression. My father was not handed anything. As a youth he mowed and raked yards, had his own paper route, sold wild honey, built fruit boxes, and washed dishes at his mother’s small Tempe café. He earned his way.
I reflected this theme when I was young. I was never given an allowance. It was a privilege to have a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I had to earn my own way. With my father’s support, when I was 11 years old I began busing tables at a local eatery called Rosita’s Restaurant for $1 an hour. I then made a big career move by taking my dish washing talents to a Golden Dragon restaurant for a whopping 50-cent pay increase.
During this time my father was the head of Eagleson’s Big & Tall men’s clothiers, then based in Los Angeles. My summer job was to sweep out Eagleson’s warehouse for $3.50 an hour. I quickly discovered I could not fool or trick my dad, nor could I loaf on the job. Believe me, as a teen I tried, but he never let me get away with it. I am grateful now for his firm but loving direction. Over time I proved myself, eventually becoming Eagleson’s president for seven years.
But while having various jobs as a youth, there was my father’s golden thread of advice running through them all: Whatever the job, do it the very best you can. It was ingrained in me to do my best because my name and reputation was attached to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re sweeping a warehouse or you own the warehouse and everything in it. Your name is on the job; the responsibility is yours. To this day I abide by this axiom.
My father stressed the importance of giving back to the community. As a kid he often saw his mother feeding people at her café who could not pay for food. My grandmother never turned away a hungry person. That example of compassion and taking care of others stuck with my father. He learned the principles of giving, and he passed it on. Over the years Fulton Homes has sponsored many programs, mainly water safety and educational programs. It is our way of paying it forward to others.
Like that mirror image of my father, I did the same for my children. They all had chores to do in our house, whether it was tending to our garden or caring for the menagerie of animals we’ve had over the years. There are no trust fund babies in the Fulton family. You work honest for what you get, and you reap what you sow. The motto has always been: If you want money, then go make some.
At the end of the day I am grateful because I can look in the mirror and be thankful both for my father’s love and guidance and for the image I see reflected back at me.
• Doug Fulton is chief executive officer of Tempe-based Fulton Homes. On rare occasions he still washes dishes at home.