Funny, But True: Having a Blast

Well, at least some people thought it was funny. I didn’t happen to be one of them.

I was in a staff meeting of a steel company where I was the chief restructuring officer. The company was not doing well for multiple reasons and was facing a huge cash crisis.

We had decided our only option at this point was to reduce the 2,500-person workforce by at least 10 percent to keep the company competitive, a tragic outcome for those 250 workers and their families. We were also going to have to reduce union employee benefits, which we had discussed the day before with the union representative.

All of a sudden, I hear BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! In shock, I quickly hit the floor, only to find I was the only one there. When I got back up, the other senior staff at the table were laughing at me.

I was right to duck – those were shotgun blasts that smashed into the windows. But none of them made it through the bulletproof windows the company had installed 20 years previously. It seems shotgun blasts were a frequent means of expression for unhappy union members.

So here’s some free advice. If your workers are routinely so unhappy they are shooting at senior staff, rather than spending money installing bulletproof windows, spend time thinking about rethink how you are managing the company.

My book, How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEO’s Mistakes, is now available as an ebook.

2014: A Look Back at Some Intriguing Stories

We live in interesting times. Here are some entertaining stories from 2014. Not all of them involved big money. In fact, a lawsuit was threatened over $4, while a billionaire declared money to be a great pain.

It was the year that a Chinese man nicknamed Crazy Jack Ma became one of the richest people in the world, an amazing innovation in plane design was introduced, a car service becomes indispensable in many cities but is banned in several countries    and a few funny food fights made the news. We even found out about a secret Internet.

Although he couldn’t even get a job with KFC in his hometown of Hangzhou, China and instead made $15 a month teaching English at a local college, Jack Ma is now one of the world’s richest men.

The founder of Alibaba, a business-to-business online platform, he saw an opportunity with the rise of the Internet in China. When Alibaba went public in September, raising $21.8 billion, it was the largest global IPO in history. Ma’s net worth is estimated at $23.2 billion, although he’s not basking in his wealth, calling it a great pain.

This was the year Uber, the car service, became available in more than 50 countries and 250 world cities. The company recently raised $1.2 billion with investors valuing the company at $40 billion, one of the most valuable private companies on the planet. Five years ago it was just an app.

Its success has come with controversy, however. It’s been banned in Germany, France and some cities in India, while taxi drivers have protested its presence in London. Thailand, Spain and the Netherlands have ruled it illegal and protests have been filed in other cities. Some users have deleted the app after expressing concerns over privacy.

A windowless plane, which could be flying our skies in a decade. Photograph: Tomasz Wyszo/mirski/ww.dabarti/CPI

A windowless plane, which could be flying our skies in a decade. Photograph: Tomasz Wyszo/mirski/ww.dabarti/CPI

Speaking of transportation, we won’t need a window seat for a view when a new kind of aircraft is introduced — one without windows. The Centre for Process Innovation, a U.K.-based cutting edge technology association, has plans to create an aircraft where the windows will be replaced by full-length screens with full views of the exterior. The new design will significantly reduce the weight of airplanes, which will reduce operating costs. Maybe they’ll be able to afford to bring blankets back to coach.

And speaking of planes, this recent story of taking customer service standards too far really amused me. Cho Hyun-ah was incensed when a senior flight attendant for Korean Air Lines served her macadamia nuts in a bag rather than on a plate.

The daughter of the chairman of the airline and also head of in-flight services, Cho ordered the plane to return to the gate and threw the senior flight attendant off. She was forced to resign her position and I don’t think Daddy was any too pleased with her when the story went viral. He apologized for her foolish behavior and asked for the public’s forgiveness.

Then there was the story of the associate professor of the Harvard Business School. Seems Ben Edelman was enjoying take-out from a nearby Chinese restaurant when he discovered something horrifying. Something he had to threaten legal action over. Was it a rodent part in his food that caused such anguish?

No, it seems his despair was over his bill. He had been overcharged $4. That led to an increasingly aggressive and ridiculous series of emails where the owner of the small family restaurant explained that the prices had not been updated from their website. Citing a Massachusetts statute, Ben demanded “triple damages for certain intentional violations.”

He wanted $12 back. And threatened to hire an attorney.

The kicker? He teaches in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit at Harvard. Seems to me his negotiating skills are a bit lacking. But he did admit the food was delicious.

I was certainly in the dark myself about the “Darknet,” the dark markets on the Internet. Seems you can buy drugs, weapons and even hire a hit man, all from the comfort of your home. European law enforcement officials, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security announced a crackdown in November, shutting down more than 410 hidden services.

Here’s to a wonderful 2015 for you and your loved ones. And may we all look forward to many more entertaining stories in the coming year.

And some of these things actually keep me in business.

The Value of Trust and Integrity in Negotiating

If you don’t have integrity, you have nothing. You can’t buy it. You can have all the money in the world, but if you are not a moral and ethical person, you really have nothing.

Henry Kravis

I write and speak a lot about negotiation. It’s an integral part of a career as a turnaround authority. Anyone in the turnaround field spends a great deal of time negotiating on a client’s behalf with vendors, lenders, bankers and employees — sometimes even family members.

In a previous post, “A Key Ingredient to a Successful Negotiation,” I wrote about the importance of mutual respect among parties in reaching a beneficial and positive outcome for any negotiation.

While some people admire underhanded business tactics and thrive on dirty negotiating and attempts to smear people’s reputations — anything to score a win — I persist in believing that integrity in business still has a place. And conducting yourself at all times with integrity has the added benefit of actually helping you negotiate better deals.

Yes, engaging in dirty tactics may win you a few deals. But word of your character and the way you negotiate will get out. And soon your reputation as a dirty dealer will affect the way you are perceived. Before you even walk into a negotiation the next time, your opponent’s back will be up. They don’t trust you. And without trust and dealing with integrity, deals are much more difficult to make and can even fall apart.

I recently read an article on Forbes.com, “Success Will Come and Go But Integrity is Forever.” The author, Amy Rees Anderson, addresses the value of trust.

“The value of the trust others have in you is far beyond anything that can be measured. For entrepreneurs it means investors that are willing to trust them with their money. For employees it means a manager or a boss that is willing to trust them with additional responsibility and growth opportunities. For companies it means customers that trust giving them more and more business. For you it means having an army of people that are willing to go the extra mile to help you because they know that recommending you to others will never bring damage to their own reputation of integrity. Yes, the value of the trust others have in you goes beyond anything that can be measured because it brings along with it limitless opportunities and endless possibilities.”

In the book “Essentials of Negotiation” the authors Roy J. Lewicki, David M. Saunders and Bruce Barry write about the role of trust in negotiations. “Trust increases the likelihood that negotiation will proceed on a favorable course over the life of a negotiation.”

And in addition to producing more favorable outcomes for your clients during your career, you’ll enjoy a positive reputation for the rest of your life.

And that good reputation can lead to more business. Some of my best and long-standing referral sources are from professionals who sat across the table and appreciated integrity and my straightforwardness.

Even years later, will people remember that you negotiated a big deal for a client? Or are they more likely to remember the dirty way you did it.

I opened this post with a favorite quote from Henry Kravis. I had the fortune to work with him many years ago, so I know firsthand that his sentiments are sincere. He practices what he believes and is also a generous philanthropist.

As that great philosopher Bob Marley said, “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”