My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company by Cal Turner, Center Street, US $28.00, Pp 256, May 2018, ISBN 978-1478992981
We all want to become rich or, more precisely, billionaires. Well! Not all but most of us want to become rich. That is one reason rich people instantly become celebrities and we all want to know about their lives and how they made their billions. While there are good books about most multi-billionaires, many billionaires go ignored. The lives of most of these billionaires have a lot to teach us how to start, manage and grow a business. In My Father’s Business, Cal Turner Jr. and Rob Simbeck tell the story of Dollar General, its founder Cal Turner Sr. and its longtime CEO Cal Turner Jr. Like his father, Cal Turner Jr. is also a successful entrepreneur. He graduated from the Vanderbilt University. The number of D stores rose from 150, with sales of $40 million, to more than 6,000, with sales of $6billion.
Cal Turner Sr. founded Dollar General Corporation in October 1939 as J. L. Turner and Son Wholesale Dry Goods, Shoes, Notions, and Hosiery in Scottsville. Kentucky. The author — and the son of the founder — was born the same year. Cal Turner Jr. writes, “the original idea was “selling the good stuff to the rich folks, but we were late getting into retailing and Mr. Karl Stark was already doing that in Scottsville. So we had to sell the cheap stuff to the poor folks. It was just the business we had to get into.” One of the reasons for the steep rise of Dollar General Corporation was that Cal Turner Sr. applied small town values and a strict code of ethics. Cal Turner Jr. writes, “My father believed anyone would do well to be brought up in a small town.”
The code of ethics for store managers and everyone above them was pretty straightforward. They were required to work hard and not drink on the job and not to screw the help. Cal Turner recalls that just two months after Cal Turner Jr. came to work for J. L. Turner and Son, he had to apply those rules to his dismay. He says that those rules helped him out of his first painful company decisions. It so happened that one of the district managers had shown up in a store drunk at a time when a saintly couple was visiting one of the stores. The couple had traveled to the stores taking inventory. They quickly placed a call to Cal Turner Sr., who was out of town. Therefore, the call came to Cal Turner Jr. He writes, “I was going to have to fire this man. What a wretchedly awful thing to experience for the first time!”
Turner Jr learned a lot in those days, “but I still spent a lot of time scratching my head over how the company really worked, and it wasn’t going to be easy.” He says that his father was an accomplished entrepreneur who couldn’t quite explain how he made decisions. He just had to give you specifics in an ad hoc way. He has been living and breathing J. L. Turner and Son for a quarter of a century, and it seemed to be more in his gut than in his head. He had a lifetime of trial and error experience, and a lifetime of paying attention to the way others did business, that went into every decision, now, for the first time, he had another person at his side trying to learn what he knew, and it was almost as if we were speaking two different languages. Turner Jr. writes, “I was looking for the cognitive, for an analyzable version of something that came naturally and that he’d never had to explain to anyone before. He was more attached to the doing than the discussing. My dad was a reservoir of great insights whose primary outlet was the work. I had to learn by watching.”
My Father’s Business is an inspiring story of a small store which began in rural Kentucky and grew into a billionaire national retail chain. Cal Turner Jr. shows that this feat was achieved because of his father’s business philosophy rooted in small-town values. If you are an ambitious businessman or entrepreneur, My Father’s Business will show you the future direction. It is a successful businessman’s tribute to another successful businessman who happens to be his father. My Father’s Business should be a required read for the teachers and students of business.