Why execs turn to grandma for business advice

October 31, 2011: 11:55 AM ET

Quaint as it may sound, successful executives often turn to the insights they gleaned from grandparents to navigate today's business world.

By Vickie Elmer, contributor

FORTUNE -- Some people turn to a mentor or maybe even a boss for management insights. Others look to Peter Drucker's books for pearls of business wisdom. Atlanta-area attorney A. Wayne Gill counts on the wisdom of his grandmother.

Gill runs a law firm outside Miami; he's bought and sold a few businesses and he is the author of Tales My Grandmother Told Me: A Business Diversity Fable. Despite his considerable business experience, he often recalls lessons he learned while at his grandparents' general store in Jamaica, which he visited in the summers as a child. The store, which was located in the town center in Moneague, Jamaica, sold fish, meat, rice, sugar, sandwiches, and sodas for workers. His grandmother offered ice cream and even ran a small bar in the evenings.

"She was just such a central figure," Gill says. She served as the sales person, and the deal maker, managing figures in her head and creating an ideal business environment.

Gill's grandmother was all about diversification. She bought land and a couple of gas stations. Gill followed her model by moving into public speaking and minority business consulting.

His grandmother, known as Doris (her real name was Irene Macosta) also taught him to deal fairly with vendors and other business people. "My grandmother was already practicing win-win," he says, which to him means being strong in your negotiations but not going overboard. Suppliers always wanted to do business with her, he recalls. Now, when he's negotiating: "If I get a little less, if I make the other guy happier, we can have a long-term deal, and treat each other with trust and respect."  More

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