Here is another gem from Michael of Melbourne….
Man was made for Business
I was caught in traffic sitting next to a parked truck in what we call little Vietnam. The driver and passenger rolled open the back door to reveal maybe twenty parcels on the floor of a medium sized truck that could easily carry eight pallets.
The two men grabbed a parcel each and casually walked over to the shop where they were making their delivery, each lit up a cigarette and they then started talking and laughing. The traffic began to move so I have no idea how much time they wasted in total.
Being a Big Businessman at the time, I immediately thought through how much money I could save – either with smaller trucks or filling the medium sized ones to capacity. There was clearly no need for two people so I could halve the salary costs right there. With computer aided routing there would be no need for two pack drop offs – so we could rapidly improve efficiency and cut transport costs. By the time I’d built the model I was ready to go into business when I suddenly remembered the smiles on their faces. They looked as though they enjoyed their job!
Suddenly my Business model turned upside down. This transport company was providing an income for twice as many families as my business model would do. The drivers didn’t look stressed, and weren’t racing against a schedule. I guessed that the relationships they had formed with the shop owners could mean that they weren’t so price sensitive meaning they could probably rely on the same routes, the same customers, for a long time.
I watched a program on TV called “Under Cover Boss.” An American series, the concept is that the CEO of a big business goes undercover for a week, spending time with employees on the front line. I liked the idea and I imagined the sort of mind changing, business changing models that would result.
The three companies I saw modelled a kind of business even worse than the one I had imagined – all are profiteering by under paying frontline staff – legally – in one form or another. It was to me truly shocking to see such blatant abuse of employees.
The undercover CEO’s seemed to notice what was going on, but their solution in all three cases was to isolate a handful of employees and give them a lavish bonus or raise or new job or gift, in front of the whole company assembled together. The CEO’s made heroes of themselves by swooping in and throwing a few dollars at a few people. They made no change to the core fabric of their Businesses.
If you read these newsletters you already know that I am idealistic. Even so it just doesn’t seem right that a few people can make so much money by taking advantage of workers on the frontline.
I was in a leadership seminar recently and quoted the owner of a well known Trucking Company in Australia as an example of being able to have a Big Business but treat staff well. Another person in the group begged to differ: he used to have a Milk run along with dozens of other locals (we were in Tasmania) when the person I mentioned decided to come in and take over. His trucking company quoted rates that no-one could match, and so he put them all out of business. One year later he put all the prices back to where they had been in the first place – but there was no longer any trucking competition so the Farmers had to agree. My Big Business model reared its ugly head again – put many people out of work in the name of? Progress? Efficiency? Or just making money?
With my father-in-law on Saturday in a TV repair shop and he mentioned that my sister-in-law had just purchased a new TV from one of the giant retailers. The shop owner told us that he does not think “Mr. Big” is a hero at all. He has put hundreds of small businesses out of work, maybe thousands of people, all in the name of?
There is a theme emerging.
My Big Business model was all about efficiency and scaling up and – what? What for? To put people out of work! To reduce interesting work to dull boring work? To stop paying people fair rates so that they can be exploited?
Maybe the GFC could teach us another lesson? Maybe business should be all about employing people at fair rates, maybe that should be the number one aim of business?
Would the world still be in meltdown if Big Business aimed to serve its employees first and foremost, before the big bosses, and well before the nameless investors who have no allegiance to the people? (And squander their investments anyway?)
Maybe the “Social Conscience” we hear about that is starting to emerge in the Boardrooms should begin with something simple like hiring more folks and paying them properly?
When the Pharisees criticised Jesus for healing a crippled man on the Sabbath – a day of rest and no work which in their distorted legal system included things like picking up a mat – Jesus angrily told them “the Sabbath was made for man, man was not made for the Sabbath.”
Right now maybe Jesus would say to Big Business (and Big Government) ‘Business is made for man, man is not made to serve Business.