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Two Hatted Dad

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Has a brief moment in time ever changed the trajectory of your life?  It happened to Tom Leonard of Richmond, Virginia. 

After Tom told me this story, we decided to name it “Two-Hatted Dad.” The lesson resonates with me because I worked for my dad, and my three sons each worked for me. 

The lesson in this story applies to more than fathering.  If you’ve been a boss, you know we can become friends with our employees, constantly exchanging friend hat with boss hat. 

I wrote Tom’s story in his voice… 

* * *

My dad wears two hats. It started like this. 

“Tom, join me in the hot tub. Let’s talk,” said Dad. Pretty cool, I thought. Hot tubbin’ with dad. A father-son chat. Why not?

I’d worked at Dad’s store for months. He took me on when I bailed out of college. 

Dad wasn’t pleased when I quit school, but he swallowed hard and gave me a job. Because of his success, I figured I had it made. 

My name is Tom Leonard. My dad is Stewart Leonard. He’s quite a guy. 

My father started his business in 1969. Back then it was a small dairy store with seven employees. It’s now the “World’s Largest Dairy Store” with 2,000 employees.

I’d been working for months in the store. “Start at the bottom,” Dad said. So I did. 

Stocking the shelves. Sweeping up. That was my job. 

One day the phone rang. Great news. My buddies were headed to Ft. Lauderdale for Easter Break. Heck, I thought, I’d been working hard and needed a break. 

I asked Mr. Barry, our store manager, if I could take a few days off. 

I could hardly believe what he said! 

Mr. Barry was nice, but firm. The answer was no. Something about the busy Easter weekend. He needed my help.

“No?” I thought. “I’m the boss’s son. My dad owns the place. I don’t have to listen to that.” So I took off. 

Man, what a blast. My friends and I showed that Florida town what fun was all about. 

So now back to that hot tub with Dad. I arrived with a smile (and a tan from my trip). I shucked off my jeans and pulled on my shorts. 

My father was waiting, submerged to his shoulders. I plopped into the tub. Pretty cool! Just me and Dad. “So what’s up, Dad?” I asked. 

“You know, Tom, being a father and a boss in a family business is a tough job. I have to wear two hats.” 

Dad turned and reached behind him. He picked up a red baseball cap and placed it on his head. He said, “Tom, on the one hand, I’m your dad.” 

He then turned, removed the red hat, grabbed a white one from the ledge, and put it squarely on his head. Dad said, 

“On the other hand, I’m also the boss. As the boss, I have to treat all of my employees fairly. Your manager told me you asked for vacation. He said no. You didn’t listen. You went anyway. So I hope you understand that I have to treat you the same as our other employees. Tom, you’re fired.” 

My mind went blank. Fired by Dad? How would I live? Where would I work? I’d quit school and had no real skills. 

But Dad wasn’t through. What did he do?

My father proceeded to take off that white “boss hat” and put on the red “Dad hat.” 

He said, “Son, I hear you just lost your job. What can I do to help?” 

With Dad’s help and encouragement, I went back to college. I earned my degree and now operate my very own place. Come by and say hi. It’s Tom Leonard’s Farmer’s Market in Richmond, Virginia. My success is thanks to the two-hatted lesson from Dad. 

-Greg Hague

* * *

Tom Leonard is founder of Tom Leonard’s Farmer’s Market. His store has been recognized by Richmond Guide as #1 in the “Top 15 Things to Do with Kids” in Richmond. Richmond Magazine named it #1 in the “50 Best Food Finds” in Richmond and the #1 place to purchase produce. Tom Leonard was nationally recognized by the Small Business Administration as one of the “Top 10 Young Entrepreneurs in America.”

It is not how long we spend with someone that matters. It’s the effect of that encounter that makes the difference.

-Mimi Novic, Guidebook To Your Heart

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