My wife’s father was born in China, around 1910.
When he was about five years old, the entire region was flooded.
Countless people were drowned.
His village, all the villages, his family and everything he knew just disappeared.
He survived by clinging to the only thing visible above the water.
For 2 days he hung onto the branch of a tree.
Eventually, he was rescued, and sent to work with his older brothers, on the rice boats going between Thailand and Singapore.
As he grew, he decided to settle in Singapore.
He learned how to be an electrician, and he learned about plumbing.
He couldn’t read, or write, or speak English, but he had a natural understanding of mechanical things.
And he loved working.
He worked all the hours there were.
Eventually he built one of the largest plumbing contractors in Singapore.
And a cast iron foundry, and a stainless steel works, and an office block.
He loved to work.
He worked seven days a week.
No one had told him it wasn’t healthy to enjoy your work.
No one told him work is supposed to be miserable.
When I first met him, the Singapore government had just passed a law. Everyone could only work six days a week.
So my father-in-law had to take Sundays off.
He didn’t know what to do with himself.
He wanted to be at work, that was where he was happy.
And until he died, that was all he wanted to do.
My dad was the same.
He was born in east London, in 1903.
When he was young, he worked on building sites.
In the morning he’d go into the yard and break the ice off the tap, so he could wash himself.
In the evenings he’d teach himself to read and write.
Eventually he passed the exams and became a policeman.
My dad loved being a policeman.
He didn’t know you’re not supposed to enjoy working, either.
After 35 years he had to retire from the police.
So he did the knowledge, and became a cab driver.
It took him two years to learn every street in London.
And he would have worked seven nights a week.
But my mum made him have Saturday nights off, to take her out.
He had to go along with it, even though he’d rather be working.
Those two men didn’t know it was wrong to love working.
They didn’t know they should be dreaming of retiring.
When we started GGT, Mike Greenlees and I used to discuss retiring.
Mike wanted to, I didn’t.
Mike said to me “It’s alright for you, you’re creative. You’re doing what you love. But I don’t want to be presenting to brand managers for the rest of my life.”
And maybe that’s true for account men.
Eventually, by growth and acquisition, Mike built GGT into a very big company.
Then he sold it for a fortune to Omnicom.
And he made more than enough money to retire.
But last year I saw Mike again, and he was running a large media company.
I said, “I thought you wanted to retire, how come you’re still working?”
Mike said, “I did retire. I had a year off, living in the sun. I learned how to sail, I learned how to play golf, I learned how to scuba dive, I went running every day. Then I got bored. I thought I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. So I came back and got a job, and I’m loving it”
Maybe it’s like Joni Mitchell says.
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?”