Keep Your Distance

During my business career, I found myself working with some pretty strange and unsavory types of people.  Thieves, cheats, backstabbers, expert politicians, self-righteous jerks, screaming lunatics -- every type of exteme person or personality you'll find out in the world is also lurking somewhere in corporations.

Some of those relationships you inherit, perhaps mistakes of a predecessor.  Others represent errors you might have made yourself by agreeing to work with the wrong person.

The problem relationships you inherit can be particularly tough to deal with.  If they're subordinates, perhaps you can fire them.  Peers, you can sometimes avoid.  Bosses...well, there you might have to just wait them out, or move somewhere else.  And then there are the problem customers, suppliers and other contractual partners -- these often times have to be dealt with for extended periods.  Separating from any of them can range anywhere from difficult to downright impossible.

I recall one joint venture I inherited during one of my general management jobs that was particularly difficult to handle.  You see, I discovered our partner was stealing from the joint venture.  It seemed the JV was supplied by one of the partner's other manufacturing companies, and prices for raw materials were set such that every nickel the JV made was transferred to the supplier.  I did the best I could with the situation, demanding that competitive quotes be used to set prices for key commodities.  Once trust had been broken, however, it was virtually impossible to regain, and I found myself constantly wondering how else they might be ripping me off.  My preference would have been to completely unwind the venture, but other corporate relationships made that option unavailable.  The only thing that saved me from a prolonged period of torture was a new job elsewhere.

If you can unwind the inherited messes, do so as favorably as you can and as quickly as you can.  But do so.  If you can't, then at least fight to put rules and policies in place that give you whatever protections and relief you can get.  And even though you might want to punch out the person that got the company into the mess in the first place -- don't.  Trust me, you'll make plenty of similar mistakes of your own.

And those mistakes you make yourself are even worse than the ones you inherit.  You'll probably often find yourself looking in your personal rearview mirror, thinking about all the signs you should have noticed that indicated this particular partner was unsuitable.  Self-flagulation is nearly always much worse than any imposed by others.

One of my biggest errors of this type was doubling down on an investment in a small distributor.  The company was already working with the two owners, and wanted to either get out, or get in far enough to consolidate the results.  Of course, I wanted to grow the business, so the idea of buying more was appealing.  I had plenty of indication early in the negotiations that these two characters would be very difficult to work with, but I chose to ignore them in favor of getting the deal done.  The resulting relationship was one of the more painful experiences in my professional career, which started with arguing and fighting, and ended with a nasty lawsuit.

So, if a potential partner shows themself to be difficult, immoral, or just downright suspicious, keep your distance.  Better to forego the potential gain, than live with the pain of an (in hindsight) obvious mistake.

Other Recent Posts:

Fire the First Shot

The Nuclear Option

Selling your less than stellar outcome

It's Never too Late to Rethink Strategy

Don't Rely on the Courts

If you enjoy the ideas presented in my blog posts, then check out my other writing.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS (released 7/19/12)

Corporate Thriller novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZE, and DELIVERABLES.  These are all based on extensions of my basic experiences in the world of corporate management.