What do all business people really need to know? British businessman and author ROB PARSONS has compelling food for thought. Here we excerpt from his best-selling book, The Heart of Success
The Heart of Success, available at, or call 031 716 3300. Book: R185, DVD (running time 50 minutes): R99.

‘I MEET MEN AND WOMEN every day – successful men and women – who have often achieved beyond their wildest dreams. These are men and women whom others would love to emulate, and yet they would give all they possess to change the past. So what is their great regret? Is it that they could have been more effective sales people, received wider acclaim for their academic papers, or pushed harder to get that promotion? Rarely. No – the regret is almost always in the area of relationships.

Some years ago, I was asked to speak to a large financial institution on the matter of balancing home and work. The senior executives and sales force had all been gathered for a day to examine the performance of the previous year and set goals for a new millennium. I was the closing speaker. I commended them for the success they had known and acknowledged that, to achieve it, somebody somewhere had worked long hours and made many sacrifices.


But then I urged those successful men and women not to forget the fact that although work is important, when they are older it is in the area of relationships that they will crave success. I warned them that, if they had children, those kids would be grown and gone before they knew it. As I spoke, I saw the usual looks of disbelief from the young and knowing nods from those with a few grey hairs. And then I said, ‘The days when your children want you to watch them in school plays, teach them to fly a kite, and listen to that story over and over again are very limited. The time is hurtling towards you when you’re going to say to a 14-year-old, “Do you fancy going fishing this weekend?” and he’ll reply, “Do you mind if we don’t, Dad – I said I’d go out with some friends.”’

Today, not tomorrow, holds the prize, says Rob Parsons

do you fancy going fishing this weekend?

I told them of a little maths I did one day that changed my life. I worked out the number of days in the first 18 years of my children’s lives – 6,755. No amount of success, money or prestige can buy us one day more. If your child is 10 years old, you have 2,922 left. I said, ‘I understand as well as anybody the pressures of modern business life, but those days of your children’s lives are irreplaceable: so far as is possible, try not to miss one of them.

When I finished, the chairman, a man of about 60, stood up to thank me. He was obviously having some difficulty speaking, but somehow concluded his remarks and took his seat next to me on the podium. And then I saw that his eyes were full of tears. As unobtrusively as I could, bearing in mind that we were in full view of the audience, I asked him if he was all right. He turned towards me and said ‘I’m OK. I just found it all very moving. I’ve been overseas for five days and when I got back I said to my 14-year-old boy, “Well, have you missed me?” He said, “No, Dad – because you’re never here.” He went on, “You know what really upset me? It was that my son wasn’t being sarcastic. He was just articulating what has become for us a lifestyle.

winner’s rostrum

I reached out and touched his arm and said, ‘It’s never too late’. I was well-intentioned but I wasn’t being completely honest. The truth is that though that man may still build a wonderful relationship with his son, nothing could give either of them back the years that were gone. At the time, the chance to stand on the touchline of football matches seemed as though it would be there forever, and when that father said, ‘Next week, son – I’ll be there then,’ he meant it. It was just that there were always business plans to write and accountants to listen to; there were hundreds of people who had demanded a piece of him. But his son hadn’t demanded; he had just asked – until one day he had just stopped asking.

Time spent thinking can keep your business out of a rut

why would we live like that?

Why would we live like that? What amount of money or power would lure us into an existence where we have an incredibly high standard of living but such a low quality of life? The answer is unpalatable. What drives us is the illusion of the race. To understand the illusion we must first understand the reality. Reality is the Olympic marathon runner, getting up at five in the morning to endure darkness and cold as he pounds the roads in training. It is the forsaking of time with family, or friends, or entertainment, because for the immediate future the race must be all. It is the dedication of oneself to a dream – to the possibility of the prize. And as he runs the streets, he dreams of the moment when he ascends the winner’s rostrum and holds his medal high as his country’s anthem is played.

Now imagine the unthinkable. Imagine that the training was for 40 years. Forty years of sacrifice, 40 years of dedication to the goal. But at the very last moment an official comes and says, ‘There is no prize. There is no medal. The winner’s rostrum was an illusion.’

only today holds the prize

Is it possible to build strong, successful companies without the trick – without the promise of the prize one day, the prize that is always a little further away? Is it possible to carve a career and still be a human being, not just a human doing? Yes it is, but only if we say the unthinkable – that tomorrow does not hold the prize, only today. Nothing else will keep us from the foolishness of saying, ‘One day I’ll have more time’ or ‘My retirement package will be wonderful.’

If you and I are to discover the heart and soul of success it may be wise not just to consider the now, but to try to imagine life some years down the road, take a look back and try to answer the question: What will matter to me then? We crave not just real estate but relationships. And if that weren’t sobering enough, all those we knew in business, who understood the old rules, are suddenly gone. Those who are left will say to us, ‘We’ll never get by without you.’ But they will. The very next day…

how to find some balance: a useful piece of advice

If you’re lucky enough to have a few seconds when a phone is not demanding to be answered or a moment when someone is not knocking on your office door asking you to ‘spare a minute’, then nurture that brief episode. If you’re in an airport lounge, don’t feel under pressure to get straight on your mobile or to fish some papers out of your briefcase, don’t even feel the need to look busy. Instead, buy yourself a coffee, find a quiet corner and enjoy the glorious luxury of not making the ‘best’ use of your time. Just think. The sheer lack of ‘thinking time’ – time to smell the roses, to strategise, to let our visions and dreams crystallise, to consider our real priorities – is one of the reasons why many businesses get stuck in a rut.

If anything really matters to us – matters so much that when we are old we want to look back and say, ‘This is what I did; this is what I was’ – we probably have to begin the process of change: to plant a seed, today… The carpenter put it like this: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul?


great illusions
  • Life won’t always be this busy – a slower day is coming
  • I’m working such long hours so I can give them all more than I had when I was a kid
  • The office/business will never survive without me
with partner and friends
  • Create ‘safe havens’ for your friends or family when you can give them the dignity of being present mentally. Switch off the phones for an hour in the evening and at restaurants
  • Remember: good listeners don’t interrupt, finish sentences for others or let anybody see them looking at their watch
for companies
  • Don’t ever say, ‘We expect our people to leave their home problems at the front door.’ You might as well ask them to leave their left leg there
  • Consider in-house training that includes the issue of work-life balance. Leading-edge companies are already doing this
  • Consider an in-house library on family-related issues
  • Don’t ever be threatened by an employee who tells you his/her family is more important than their job. You’ve found a person with values – now channel them to help them succeed for you and still have a life
for parents
  • Children love receiving letters; if you have to be away from home, drop them a line
  • Whenever possible try not to take phone calls in time you have designated for your children – buy an answer phone, switch off the mobile
  • Tell your children every day that you love them

ROB PARSONS ‘The prize is now!’

A senior partner in a British law firm, Rob Parsons has combined his career with a number of other unusual ventures. A father of two, he co-founded one of the UK’s most successful legal training and consultancy firms and launched a family-issues charity, Care for the Family. In 2012 he was honoured in the Queen’s New Year Honours list when he was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE). He has addressed over a million people at seminars worldwide.

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