Sweet September: From Auz

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.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Cami says:

    Nice to see that big business men (such as you) can reach the conclusion that the ultimate goal is to elevate the human condition. This concept is foreign in North America, here we are ruled by this one and only law: he who delivers the most ROI makes shareholders happy and gets to keep them….deliver less profit and shareholders will take their money and go to your competitor. One may say that shareholders’ greed is the root of all evil in our society, and unfortunately greed is unstoppable and will probably lead to self destruction.

    On a good note, you may be pleased to know that there is this huge media conglomerate in Europe called Berthlesman Group with head office in Berlin, their chairman broadcasts quarterly letters to world wide employees (via email), and his letters always start with how many people they recently employed in one country or another…financially they are a very successful corporation, but look at what they pride themselves most on: the number of people they employ and their contribution to the society! The extraordinary thing is they have hundreds of executives on all continents which they school at head office in Berlin to think the same way, and to observe the same humanitarian principles. It all started with Mr. Berthlesman, if he is still alive he is approaching 100 years old; but the real leader who spearheaded this approach to business world wide is his wife who is much younger (early 60s I believe) and who is an extraordinary woman. Although she keeps a low profile her presence on the global economic and political arenas is quite significant.

    Cheers!
    Cami

  2. Michael says:

    Hi,
    well, how lovely to hear from a sister – in – love for humans
    Australia is no different to what you say
    can we at least say it as it is? try to spread the word?
    the actions you suggest have lead to self destruction
    that is my point
    the GFC is a result of GREED
    and yet it seems no-one has learned a thing

    in OZ the same men who advised us about investments still do
    the same bankers

    how can it be that a whole sector of people is proved wring
    and escape any judgement???

    i don’t care about the billionaires
    its the mum and dad investors here in Oz and I am sure all around the world
    who were sucked into these charlatan’s and their advise
    and its the mums and dads who have lost
    whilst the charlatans still prosper

    i know its the rule of the world but that doesn’t mean i cant point it out!!!

    blessings
    m

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