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  • Writer's pictureSusan Szerenyi Mahaffee

A Legacy of Leadership: How My Father Shaped My Journey

As we celebrate Father's Day today, I've been reflecting on the profound impact my father had on my life and career. His legacy has been a guiding light for me, both personally and professionally. 


I’d like to share his story and the lessons I learned from him.


My parents were Hungarian-born immigrants who fled communist Hungary with just a suitcase, a few dollars in their pockets, and the clothes on their backs. They left with roundtrip tickets to avoid suspicion but never intended to return. They landed in New York, filed for political asylum, and began building a new life from scratch. 


Growing up in this environment of resilience and determination shaped who I am today.


My father worked as an Executive Chef and was a natural leader. He got me my first summer job in HR because he knew I was good at talking to people and organizing tasks. That experience was a turning point for me, but more importantly, it allowed me to really observe how my father was in his work capacity. He led by example, always putting others before himself. 


I remember one year he didn’t take his pay raise so he could give more money to his team. You don’t hear about that kind of selflessness much today.


When my father passed away suddenly, the impact he had on others became clear. 


At his funeral, busloads of employees he had worked with showed up. They shared stories of how he touched their lives and treated them with respect and kindness. It struck me how many lives he had impacted. He was more than just a colleague; he was a mentor and a friend to many. He believed in bringing people together and respecting everyone’s background. 


He often said, "You should pay people what they’re worth, not when they tell you they’re leaving." 


This lesson has become a cornerstone of my leadership philosophy.


Every decision I make now, I ask myself if it’s worth the sacrifice my parents made when they came to this country. My father’s influence is evident in how I conduct my business today. I’m committed to making a positive impact, just like he did. I want my clients to feel that we’re in this together, like I’m part of their team.


When the storms of life hit—like navigating remote work during COVID-19, supporting my kindergartener’s virtual learning, and going through an unexpected divorce—I found strength in my father’s example. 


I needed to see people who were willing to challenge the status quo. 


I often think about what my dad would do.


Inspired by his legacy, I started People Rise, LLC, to help leaders and organizations thrive. My approach to leadership and HR consulting is deeply personal and driven by a desire to honor my father’s values of hard work, respect for others, and embracing diversity.


My journey is a testament to the lasting influence a parent can have. My father’s lessons on leadership, compassion, and integrity continue to guide me as I help others achieve their best. 


This Father’s Day, I’m reminded of the power of a parent's love and the enduring impact of their values.


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Jill Porter
Jill Porter
03 Tem

Susan, I appreciate your sharing this glimpse into your Father's life and how the way he showed up in life positively shaped you. He'd be proud of what you are doing through your work at People Rise, LLC. Today would have been my own Father's birthday, so stumbling upon this blogpost felt somehow serendipitous.

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