Book Review: My Father’s Business

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My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into A Billion-Dollar Company by Cal Turner, Jr., is one of only a few excellent first-person books about business. Too many authors want to document their greatness. Some want to settle old scores. You won’t find that in this book.

Other authors derive universal truths from the things they feel drove their success. There’s value in that, but it leaves you to do the hard work of comparing their situation with yours. There’s no bulleted list of “universal truths” in this book.

This is the story of the Dollar General Corporation from its founding as a family business to its growth into a Fortune 500 corporation. Cal Turner, Jr. interwines the stories of the company and his family. That’s the way it is in real life, and that’s how it is in this book.

The company was founded as J. L. Turner and Son in 1939, in small-town Kentucky. The “son” in that designation was Cal Turner, Sr. His son calls him “the real Cal Turner.” The book is really three stories. One is the story of Dollar General. Another is the story of the Turner family.

The third story is the story of Cal Turner, Jr., the author of this book, and his growth and development as a man and as a businessman. He tells us about his successes and failures. He talks about doubts and fears. He describes times he was sure he was right and got it wrong. That makes this a compelling book.

Compelling or not, this may not be a book for you. The title is “My Father’s Business.” The father is both Cal Turner, Sr. and God. We wouldn’t get the story of Cal Turner, Jr.’s development as a person and an executive without the references to his faith and how it influenced his life and his decision-making. If you find that uncomfortable, this book may not be for you.

This book does not have prescriptions or action points or summaries of the important things you should learn. I think that’s appropriate because this is a story about a man, a family, and a company. If you’re looking for microwaveable bits of wisdom, you won’t like this book

This book captures the way Cal Turner, Jr. speaks. For me, that’s authenticity. He speaks like a man raised in small-town Kentucky. That’s appropriate. But if you’re looking for more polished prose or less rustic bits of wisdom, you may not like this book.

If you’re considering buying the audio version of this book, here’s a special note. Cal Turner, Jr. reads the book. There are people who like that because you get a little extra flavor. There are others who don’t because Cal Turner, Jr. is not a professional narrator. I suggest you listen to a sample before you buy the book in audio form.

In A Nutshell

My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into A Billion-Dollar Company is the story of a company founded in small-town Kentucky in 1939, the family that founded it, and the growth and development of the man who ran it for almost 40 years. It’s an honest book and a personal one. If you like honest, first-person accounts of what it’s like to be in business, this is a great book. If overt expressions of Christian faith or rustic language bother you, give this book a pass. If you’re looking for distilled wisdom, this isn’t the book for you. But if you like real stories about real people in business, told in straightforward way, this is a great book.

Additional Resource

If you like good first-person business books, check out Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. Here’s a link to my review.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on my GoodReads page.


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