Business is not a zero-sum game with clear-cut outcomes

  • Business
  • Tuesday, 07 Oct 2014

Once, I met a former businessman who had quite a tale to tell. By the time I heard his story, the man was already well in his 60s. He was using a walking stick and was spending most of his days sitting in coffee shops with friends his age, talking about days gone by.

“You know? I was once a millionaire”, the elderly gentlemen (whom I shall refer to as Mr A) told me.

When I met him, he was driving an small, old car which looked the worse for wear. There were even several dents on the side of the car.

Curious as to how he made his millions (and this was more than 10 years ago) and what happened to the fortune, I asked to know more.

According to Mr A, he started off working as a sales person for a small oil and gas company.

As he had the gift of the gab and was very persuasive, he was able to meet his sales targets without much difficulty. But later, he realised that good as he was in closing deals for his employer, it was not worthwhile to exceed targets because all he would get was just the commission.

An idea then occurred to him. He decided that he would continue to work for his employer and meet his sales targets and if there were any additional customers, he would channel them elsewhere — to a company he had set up himself on the side. So that was how he became a businessman.

When asked if his employer knew about his side business, he justified it by saying that as long he continued to generate the same amount of revenue for his employer, he had done his employer no wrong. An interesting way of thinking, I thought. But the story did not end there.

With the generous commission he was getting from his permanent employment and the additional income he was getting from his own business, he was able to earn quite a handsome income every month. He thought, surely now that he had money, he should use it to earn more money and in the fastest way possible. Indeed, is that not what all businessmen and entrepreneurs want to do?

But instead of using the money to invest in financial instruments or in other new businesses, he found another way. He told me that with as little as RM200 in the morning, he would be able to get as much as RM18,000 by nightfall. And all it took was a trip — to the casino!

As time went by, he was getting richer and richer. But greed is a hard taskmaster. Soon he was involved in all sorts of gambling apart from just trips to the casino.

He would win some one day and lose about the same amount or more on another day. Finally one day, his luck ran out and in that one day, he lost everything and was declared a bankrupt. By then, his health had also deteriorated and he was diagnosed with cancer.

When I met him, he seemed to have recovered from his illness. He proudly continued to tell me how he had walked out of the hospital without paying the bill and how, when creditors from his previous business phoned him, he pretended to be someone else and said that Mr A had already passed away! I was not sure whether to be shocked or amused by his candid confessions.

“But I have done no harm to anyone,” he said when he saw my shocked look. “In business, you can’t be so honest. You need to use your brains.”

A friend who was with me said, “But surely business is not a game of win-win. When there is a winner, there will also be losers. What you’ve won or think you’ve gotten away with, have cost someone to lose something”.

Mr A smirked. “I have not harmed anyone”, he insisted.

In the beginning, Mr A’s cunning definitely got him somewhere in the world. But look where it had gotten him now? Did he win or lose?

> Jeanisha is reminded of the Chinese word, shé de which her father explained means “give and get”. She believes business should not just be about getting but also about giving. If you agree or don’t, talk to her at

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Opinion , Starting Out column


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