Old-Fashioned Guidance from John Wanamaker

After working his way to the top, John Wanamaker, managing partner of BKD, LLP, has enough advice to fill a ledger. Over smoked Old Fashioneds at Hotel Vandivort’s The Order, he spills his secrets and most valuable tips.

By Claire Porter | Illustration by Dusty Campbell

Mar 2016

Old-Fashioned Guidance from John Wanamaker
John Wanamaker has gained valuable perspective and unwavering professionalism throughout his career.

On Attitude:

“Attitude is everything. You can teach a lot of things, but you can’t teach a good attitude.”


On Stress:

“Don’t confuse stress with something bad. Stress just means you’re out of your comfort zone and learning new things. With time, your comfort zone broadens and keeps broadening and broadening.”


On Perspective:

“If five years from now, 10 years from now you look back and go, ‘It didn’t matter,’ then it probably doesn’t matter today. It’s about trying to provide some perspective to young folks and not getting caught up in minutiae.”


On Mentoring:

“This is true no matter where you’re at: You’ve got to have a good mentoring coach.”


On Listening:

“The wisdom imparted upon me was never ever rush to judgment. Get all the facts. No matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides to every story.”


On Success:

“Success is where the passion lies.”


On Standing Out: 

“The differentiator is: Are you bringing ideas that will help your client do better at what they’re in business to do?”


On Leadership:

“Don’t ever be a leader that says ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ Lead by example. That’s critical.”


On Voluntarism:

“[Civic engagement is] not about checking off something for the firm saying you’re involved in something. It’s about recognizing that you live here, your kids are going to school here. Don’t you want Springfield to continue to thrive and be a better place to live?” 


On Integrity:

“At the end of the day, we have to make sure we let our integrity drive us. Integrity trumps economics every time.”


On Emotions: 

“Never get emotional. You have to stay even-keeled and level-headed about things and handle things in a business-like manner. A lot of times it could be someone who is going through a really tough personal situation that nobody else really understands. If that person has otherwise been a really good employee, don’t we owe them the chance to explain and understand what’s going on, and then give them some latitude to get through what they’re going through personally?”


On Patience: 

“No matter what organization you’re involved with, there’s always somebody setting policies and procedures, and as a brand new person, you’re not going to be able to change everything. But maybe you ought to just learn to adapt sometimes. Many times you don’t have the full perspective to understand why that policy or procedure was put in place. It just appears like a stupid thing to you today.”


On Professionalism: 

“I hope that I set the example of professionalism. It’s more than just how you dress. It’s how you maintain your car, your office and your home if you entertain. I always ask if some third party met you at your office or at your home, would they use the term professional to describe you?” 


On Balance: 

“You have to have life balance. Everybody wants to have a family and have kids and that kind of thing. We don’t want people to be just workaholics either. We want them to have a balanced life and have time with family. It’s discipline to balance and make your personal [life] as important as your professional life.”


On Finding Your Niche:

“No matter what you do, you’ve got to have passion for what you do. I’ve always said the day I wake up and don’t want to go to the office is the day I’m going to leave public accounting and find something else to do. So far, that day has never come.”


On Growth: 

“We don’t want to lose clients out the back door because if you want to grow and you’re losing clients as fast as you’re bringing them in, you’re not going to grow.”

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