“It’s Just Business”

Today, my coworker regaled a tale of how, when he had his own auto parts business, he had created an enemy from his practices.

It was an interesting story. He said he had contracts with all the big name companies of the industry he worked in and had gotten them by presenting his product, all the benefits, and the low warranty claims. Then he would show the competitor’s product and basically show why it was crap. He felt this was fair business practice, everyone was doing it, and that there were no ethical issues with his tactics.

Later, the person who owned the competitor company he had bashed in his presentations ended up being his boss. He felt it was poor character for his boss/ex-competitor held a grudge against him moving forward because that was “just business”. However, his “just business” tactics cost his future boss humdreds of thousands of dollars, more than likely resulting in personal hardship, and eventually having to sell or dissolve his business.

I said I could certainly understand his boss’ feelings.

We got into a deeper discussion about his practice. I asked him, “Could you have presented your product as a stand alone, without having to bash your competitor? Would you have been able to sell it without that?” He said he didn’t think so. I said, “Then, your product was only moderately superior. If it can’t speak for itself and has to rely on downplaying your competitor, it isn’t quite the quality you are trying to convey.”

We went down a winding conversation of how one purchased something, about researching and personally comparing that info over having a site openly use its competitors as a way to sell its product. He said it was the same. I said it was not. Unlike having that info foisted on me in an attempt to upstage a competitor, I either find that info myself or ask for it volluntarily, and make my decision on facts, like specs, instruction manuals, uses, and other things per each item, and determine what will best fit my needs. Putting the negatives of competitors out there won’t sway me either way.

He still believed that my research and a company providing that info was one and the same since companies lie about specs and utliziation to get a sale. Honestly, I believe what he was suggesting violated consumer rights, but didn’t want to go down that road.

The main point I was trying to get to was ethics. Why did he feel that was ethical. Obviously, it was because he believed that “everyone else does it”, he couldn’t make the sale without it, and the competitors all overstate the capabilities and factual info to get people to buy.

This is a very problematic position to be in. Not just for him, but for the individual people who deal with him. He is willing to discard ethics if it directly benefits him without thinking of how that action also negatively affects him. He is willing to lower his reputation and standing for a gain he finds worthy, almost at any costs, because of the rationalizations he has created to allow himself that ability to do so. If I had heard about this behavior and activity of his, I can guarantee he wouldn’t have gotten my business unless his product truly was superior, but only because of that.

People don’t stop and think about ethics enough. It shows up all the time in our daily lives.  They don’t stop to think about the impacts that lack of ethics creates. Like my coworker, he feels justified in his practices and feels that his competitor was being unreasonable, stubborn, and just being a resentful asshole. He doesn’t stop to think of why that might be. That he might have been directly affecting that person’s livelihood, to take care of his family, or why he might have been providing a less than perfect product. There are a number of reasons, none of which my coworker ever considered. Nor did he consider collaborating or merging with this competitor to try and perhaps improve both their lives. He bullied his stance without any thought of how he could take his knowledge and potentially benefit him and someone else.

Instead, he was happy to dehumanize his competitor, then find the way that affected his future relationship with that person to be unacceptable, even though his own behavior created that situation. He claims he dislikes Capitalism, yet his actions and behaviors were the perfect example of that principle. Instead of innovating and improving community, he chose to use tactics that stamped out his competitor and ruin him.

In life, all we often have are our ethics and integrity. They are the things that direct our actions and behaviors. They are the standards that we use to guide ourselves through life. Our decisions have direct effects on where we end up. As I told my coworker, “what goes around, comes around” much like a bad penny or a boomerang. Your ethical choices could have you flying high at the start, but as we can see, in the future, they can most certainly come back to blindside you.

An old boss of mine once said to me, “Don’t do anything you don’t want to see as a headline on a newspaper.” It sounds ridiculous, but what it really means is, don’t do anything that you worry about being accused of, whether good or bad. I’m certain my coworker would be happy with the headline, “Small Business Man Beats Out Competitor!” but furious to see “Business Man Shrewdly Ruins Competitor’s Livelihood!” With his questionable ethics and integrity, it could have gone either way. Or, he could have had a headline that read: “Small Businessman Works with Competitor to Create a Superior Product!”

My father also used to tell me, “Make sure you consider all the possibilities before you act.” which, honestly, as a child with anxiety was the worst advice to give, but it was good advice all the same. If I were in my coworker’s shoes, I admit, I would have never considered this guy eventually becoming my boss, because that seems like a really wild and unlikely outcome, but I would consider having to face him at some point, whether at the grocery store, or at church or some public place and having to deal with what I had done. That alone probably would have kept me from doing what my coworker had.

For what it’s worth, I’m not saying my coworker is a bad person. I’m only saying that due to his lack of ethics, thinking only of his own profit because of his beliefs on how businesses are run,  he created a siuation that blew up on him in the future. Instead, had he held on to ethics and ingretrity, he could have not only profitted but helped another person to profit and created not just a better product but a community. Ethics doesn’t just dabble in the self. It is something that, like a ripple, affects everyone, the choices of those ethics touches, whether you want to take accountability for it or not.

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