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Doing Business with Integrity

His name was Mendy Sussman. He was in his early 80s when I knew him back in the mid-1970s, so either he’s no longer with us or he’s about 117 years old and still sitting under a palm tree in Miami Beach. What that man taught me in about a half hour modeled my entire career.

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Doing Business with Integrity

It’s Your Business

Subject: 14 rules for operating a business with integrity
Essential Reading: Shop Owner, Center Manager
Author: Terry Greenhut, Transmission Digest Business Editor

It’s Your Business

  • Subject: 14 rules for operating a business with integrity
  • Essential Reading: Shop Owner, Center Manager
  • Author: Terry Greenhut, Transmission Digest Business Editor

His name was Mendy Sussman. He was in his early 80s when I knew him back in the mid-1970s, so either he’s no longer with us or he’s about 117 years old and still sitting under a palm tree in Miami Beach. What that man taught me in about a half hour modeled my entire career.

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Mendy was a retired business owner who had operated three large plumbing-supply warehouses. He owned the building that housed my shop until I bought it from him in 1976. Knowing I was brand new to business he gave me these few rules to live by that have served me very well. They were about doing business with integrity so that I would always have the respect of my suppliers, customers, employees and anyone else with whom I would do business. These rules aren’t complicated, which is good, because I’m a pretty simple New York City street kid who needs to understand things quickly and easily. So here are Mendy’s rules:

  • 1) Never bounce a check. When you write a check you are pledging that the money is actually in the bank to back it up. It’s supposed to be in lieu of having to carry rolls of cash in your pocket. It’s a commitment, a promise – maybe even an oath that you have every intention of paying for whatever it is you’re buying.
  • If you knowingly bounce a check you’re a crook; you were out to get the product or service knowing full well that you didn’t have the money to do so. If you weren’t aware that there wasn’t enough in the account to cover the check, you’re just a lousy business person who probably struggles in all phases of business because you don’t have a clue or maybe a care as to what’s really going on. If you unknowingly bounce a check when there was supposed to be enough in the account but someone bounced a check they gave to you, you need to either start getting a guaranteed source of payment or stop doing business with that person. He or she is hurting your reputation.
  • 2) Don’t ever use the phrase, “All’s fair in business,” because it isn’t. If you don’t have integrity, you don’t have anything. You can pile up the dirty money, but in the long run it won’t do you any good. There comes a day when all accounts must be settled. Ask yourself how you want that day to turn out for you.
  • 3) Don’t lie. If you tell somebody the check is in the mail, make sure it is. If you promise a car to a customer for a certain time, make sure it’s ready. If you give a price that a customer is ready to pay when he comes to pick up the car, be sure that is the price – no 5 o’clock surprise. If you say you’ll be somewhere at a certain time, be there. If you promise to return a call or an e-mail, do it. Don’t leave people hanging, waiting for you to do what you promised.
  • 4) Keep in touch – Make notifications. If you find out you can’t keep an appointment or that you won’t have enough money to pay a certain bill, contact the other party immediately. Don’t wait or hide hoping the situation will somehow cure itself or go away. The longer you make people wait to hear from you the less they will trust you. As the clock ticks away so does your credibility.
  • 5) Don’t put off handling the bad stuff: comebacks, notices of different kinds, summonses for any violations, the roof that’s leaking and might fall in if you don’t do something about it etc. – all the types of situations that will get worse if not handled. As inconvenient, costly or upsetting as they are, just remember that they are temporary issues. As long as they don’t put you out of business permanently you will live to fight another day. If you take care of them immediately you won’t have to stew over them and let them keep you from moving forward with your business plan. As it turns out, most seemingly bad things that happen aren’t so bad once you tackle them and move on, so just do it.
  • 6) Pay something. If you get in a jam and can’t pay all of your bills on time, don’t disregard any. The tendency is to pay the little ones in full and push the big ones to the other side of the desk; not a good practice. Send everyone a little bit until you can catch up. Even if you call to ask and they say they don’t accept partial payments, send one anyway. I’ve never seen anyone send back a check when you do that, and they will at least know that you are trying, that you haven’t just put them on your “pay-no-mind list.”
  • 7) When you can’t do – call. The moment you know you can’t pay a bill in full or you won’t have a car ready when promised or when you have to raise a price or add on to a bill, call immediately. Don’t leave people hanging.
  • 8) Don’t do anything that makes anyone wave the “crook flag” at you. If you are up front with people all the time it will be rare that anyone ever thinks you tried to put one past them. Be ready to show the proof of anything you’ve done if asked for it.
  • 9) Eat a little crow when you’re wrong. Admit when you made a mistake, apologize and make a sincere pledge to rectify the situation. Just make sure you don’t screw it up a second time. Left to their own devices things tend to go from bad to worse. Make sure you monitor whatever the situation is so that the results will be right this time. People tend to forgive mistakes if they aren’t followed up with more of them.
  • 10) Be humble when you’re right. If you want to really make someone angry after you’ve won some kind of a jousting match with him, look him right in the eye and tell him, “I told you so.” Don’t be that guy. Nobody wants to do business with him or cut him a break when he needs one.
  • 11) Put yourself in the other guy’s position. Ask yourself how upset you would be if someone did to you what you are planning to do right now. If you would find it unacceptable so would the other guy.
  • 12) Don’t make long-term monetary commitments on the basis of how business is right now. If you decide to buy something on credit, think about how you will pay for it if business turns for the worse. Base everything on worst-case scenario, not best.
  • 13) Be honorable. Don’t do anything you’d be ashamed to see yourself doing on the front page of your local newspaper or on YouTube.
  • 14) Be dependable. Be the go-to guy, the one everyone knows they can count on when they really need help. Be there for your customers and employees but most of all for your families.

OK, so maybe it took Mendy a little more than a half hour to teach me all this, and maybe I needed to get knocked on the head a few times over the years to make it stick, but I’m so glad it did. I may not have made as much money as I could have by trying to do business some other way, but I could always sleep at night and never had to look over my shoulder.

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I think at some point you need to stop and ask yourself, “What or who do I want to be known as?” And then do everything to be that.

When I was with the New York Police Department, if another officer would retire or leave the job for some other honorable reason the saying his peers used to describe him very simply after he was gone was, “He was a good cop.” That said it all. There was no higher form of praise. There didn’t need to be.

Think about what you would want people to say about you after you eventually leave the business world for whatever reason, then conduct yourself accordingly.

Mendy’s rules may not make you the richest person monetarily, but they will definitely enrich the way to walk through this life.

Terry Greenhut, Transmission Digest Business Editor. Visit www.TerryGreenhut.com.

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