This article first appeared on August 27, 2014 in The Chattanoogan.com. Enjoy.
When I was in my early 20’s, an older guy asked me if I knew the definition of “business ethics”, then quickly explained: “it was what the rich old guys rolled down the mountain at us poor scrambling bastards trying to climb up!”
It is easy to become philanthropic and a high-minded civic statesman, once you secure your wealth. Rest assured, many of the legendary tycoons whose names are on the tall buildings across America would have cut your heart out and handed it to you (along with a few other cherished organs), if you stood between them and making their money. “Nothing personal kid, it’s just business”. If you can have one of these as your sponsor or mentor, success can come quickly, perhaps too quickly…before you have time to earn, learn and prove your own worth as an individual. There are great rich folks and sorry rich folks, just as there are with their poorer neighbors, but there is one rule you must always observe: Never get underneath two bull elephants fighting…you will likely get trampled!
Ethics can be a great shield that will protect you in difficult times, if you stay true to yourself and high standards of conduct that are not negotiable. Situational ethics are no ethics at all. If your values change with profit/personal gain, then the world will know, but worst of all, you will know in your heart that you failed the biggest test in life – the test of integrity. Trust me, there are a lot of rich, miserable people in the world who pack a lot of shiny objects into the black holes of their souls. Be successful with honor, so you may be proud of not just your achievements, but how you did it…the right way.
Your personal and business lives should be played out like golf – it is the only sport in which you are obligated to penalize yourself for infractions. Just as in golf, your coworkers, customers, vendors, bosses family and friends can tell when you kicked the ball from behind the tree or miraculously “found” your ball in the weeds once too often. You have just been found unethical on something small…so what else big will you lie about? If you will lie about & steal something small, you’ll for darn sure lie about & steal something big! Once you are deemed untrustworthy, your future is quite limited. In the olden days, the new king would execute the assassin that he had hired to kill the last king, for he knew this guy could not be trusted! Business people value loyalty and trustworthiness, but good executives do not ask for unethical behavior by employees. If you survive by office politics and not on high performance, then you, my friend, are destined to fail as soon as your side loses an election. Choose now, what you wish to be seen as in life…time is running out until you are branded forever in the eyes of those around you.
In the end, it is easier to be honest and forthright, but don’t be brutally honest! There are some nice little white lies that do no harm and make others feel better about themselves. Telling the cold, brutal truth may not only be hurtful, but it can severely hamper your odds of success. If I have to explain this to the guys who are reading this (about when to hold your tongue), go ask your Momma for advice! If Momma is not available, ask any other living, breathing woman. She will tell you how for thousands of years, women have been achieving their goals by pumping up a little man’s ego!
Special Remembrance of one of My Mentors
“You can lose an order on price and come back;
You can also lose an order for late delivery and come back;
You can even lose an order for quality issues and come back;
You can lose an order for a lack of integrity and may never come back”.
Quoted to me long ago by one of my greatest mentors, James B. Robinson, President of American Manufacturing Company, who recently died after a long, full life.
Rest in Peace, Jim.
About the Author: Bill Hewgley is President, Metalworking Solutions, LLC, a company he founded after retiring as President of American Manufacturing Company. One of his chief priorities is to mentor this upcoming millennial generation, while honoring those who helped him find his own way in life, by passing it on.