A Man of Principle. In loving memory of Rolando G. Virardi

Even though the Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘legacy’ as “an amount of money or property left to someone in a will...

Even though the Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘legacy’ as “an amount of money or property left to someone in a will”, I am pretty sure that this is not what the relatives of the great philosopher Jim Rohn, the incredible teacher Zig Ziglar, or the father of self-development Norman Vincent Peale think of when they consider their loved ones’ legacy.

Two weeks ago, another great man and mind joined Rohn, Ziglar and Peale. He was not only an incredible mentor and a loyal friend; he was also my father.

In the course of his 80 years on this earth, Rolando G. Virardi had a tremendously positive influence on so many lives: first and foremost, those of our family but also on the hundreds of associates who had helped him build his Virardi empire as well as on all those people who were fortunate enough to meet him as a result of his personal and professional endeavours.

The unique personality that we all came to admire, adore and appreciate was primarily shaped by his actions, which were, in turn, based on the principles, according to which he conducted his affairs. These are his legacy.

The principles which guided my father’s professional life have inspired and impacted me. I hope that they may have a similar effect on you:

Start at the Bottom

It was autumn 1996 when, as a young recruit, I first set foot in the Virardi offices. Apart from personally welcoming me onto the team, my Dad’s first words were the following: “Even though our work is only a few steps away from our home [our house was above the company offices], in this office you are not my son but another member of our team. Even though you carry the Virardi surname, there will be no favours. You will start at the bottom of the ladder and, hopefully, work your way up.” And that is exactly how things were. I started as a delivery guy and did that for three years, before slowly and steadily working my way to become Assistant Managing Director 15 years later. Starting at the bottom not only reassured our associates that exceptions would not be made to anyone at Virardi but it also enabled me to become a better professional. Having to work my way up through the ranks ensured that I learned and absorbed various lessons in human behavior that would be extremely useful later in my life. If my own son, also called Rolando, eventually shows an interest in my line of work, I feel certain that his grandfather’s approach will be repeated in some way.

Never Burn Your Bridges

Another great lesson that I received from my Dad came during my first years in the company when Eliza Aristidou, a young and talented accountant, handed in her resignation. She had been headhunted by one of the country’s major banks and her departure would leave a huge gap in our accounting department, which consisted of no more than three people at the time. I was present when my father called her into his office. Knowing that Italian and Greek blood flowed through his veins, I was afraid that he might lose his temper, feeling somehow betrayed by Eliza, in whom he had invested both time and money to help her become a respected and talented professional. On the contrary, Rolando surprised both Eliza and myself by addressing her in the most polite and gentle of tones as he urged her to work as diligently for her new employers as she had for Virardi. The idea that you should never burn your bridges still lingers in my mind. In legal circles, they say, “Lose your head, lose your case”. My Dad never lost either. I only wish that he could see the wonderful message that Eliza sent when she learned of his death:

"Dear Michael, please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of Mr. Rolando. It was an honour for me to have worked with him. He was a capable leader, a strict but fair employer, a bold and far-sighted businessman. Although I was very young, he believed in me and put his trust in me. He will always have a place in my heart. My condolences go to Giovanni and Mrs. Miranda too."

You are Responsible for the Memory You Leave Behind

I have turned this particular piece of advice into a whole seminar and I am glad that my father had the chance to attend it. One day, during my first few months in the family business, he called me into his office. Everyone knew that, when this happened, it meant that you had either screwed up or done something to catch his attention! Either way, a priceless lesson would always follow and the one I received that day continues to serve me well to this day. “Son”, he told me, “When you meet someone for the first time, there are three things they can say about you: something positive, something negative or nothing at all. Negative and nothing are the same thing in my book, so bear in mind that you are responsible for the positive memory you leave behind... on a daily basis.” What a valuable lesson about being memorable for all the right reasons. It is perhaps the main reason why I have managed to secure invitations to hold seminars and events in destinations like the United States and China, where competition is so fierce. Skills can, of course, be a differentiator but just think about this for a moment: Even if you are “one in a million”, in a global population of 7 billion, this means that there are another 7 million people just like you! What will set you apart? Other than your knowledge, it is definitely your personality and the way you come across, so that you leave a positive memory behind. Having sifted through the hundreds of messages that I received following my Dad’s death, I am absolutely certain that he left a positive memory behind. As he said when he appeared in the 100th episode of #AskVirardi which was recorded just a few months before his passing, “Leave a good name for yourself because you can take nothing else with you when you go…”

Time is More Important than Money

It is easy to confuse the value of things when you are young but at 80 years of age, my father was in a good position to understand values and priorities. He said to me during that same episode.

"At this age, your energy is naturally diminishing. However, you can sit and rest, you can think and, patiently, you can find a solution. Money is of no use to a person (meaning himself) of this age but time is.” Wish I had just another five minutes with my dad. If your parents are alive – irrespective of how your relationship with your parents has developed over time– embrace them, hold them close by keeping your eyes shut and your heart open wide.

Never Let Adversity Deprive You of Becoming the Man You Were Destined to Be

My father credits his mother, Fanio, for raising him to become the man he was, by ensuring that he had an education. “Education enhances your view of life,” he said. “Through education you are able to see what is happening around you. To be successful in whatever you do, you need to find out what the customer needs and be able to serve those needs..” His mother deprived herself of almost everything that a woman of her age would have longed for so that Rolando could go abroad to study at the American University of Beirut, then highly regarded as one of the best universities in the world. My Dad also spoke about how he lost his own father at the tender age of 14 months and reflected on how much better things could have been. But despite his setbacks, he still went on to be a successful businessman and father.

My Dad died wearing his favourite Virardi t-shirt bearing the words “Customer Service”. He was my hero for many reasons but he was also very special to a lot of people because he believed in serving others. They might have been his customers, his friends, the “Make a wish foundation” to which Virardi contributed 1% of its turnover on my Dad’s instructions, his beloved football club, or his grandchildren, children and, above all, the love of his life, our mother, Miranda Virardi, with whom he spent 55 years of his life. We will all remember him and his legacy will surely live on.