When business is personal

  • SME
  • Tuesday, 25 Mar 2014

In the movie, The Godfather, Michael Corleone said to his brother, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Sometimes, business partners and affiliates say this to each other. Some employers even say this to their employees, especially those they are firing. It is easy to say this to somebody, but if you are on the receiving end, it can be hard to swallow.

The fact is, business can be ruthless. It is a dog-eat-dog world.

Your business friends today can be your enemies tomorrow although the reverse may also occasionally come true.

You can trust someone today as a business partner, and later down the line you may discover it is an entirely different story. The truth hurts.

Recently, one business friend whom I have always known to be eternally optimistic, shared with me some sad news. He confided in me that he is considering winding down his company, a lack of funds being the primary reason.

I was surprised as there were no tell-tale signs that his business was not doing well. He had been getting a steady stream of customers in his two-year-old business. So what was the problem?

He shared that he had expanded his business too fast, hired too many people and some were not performing and meeting sales targets. Then suddenly, one of his partners wanted out.

So with this partner cum investor out of the picture and his sales revenues not coming in fast enough, his monthly cash flow was severely affected.

He confessed he was even using his own money to cover the monthly salaries now.

Not that I am an expert myself but I offered my two-cents and ventured that he might have to think about retrenching some of his non-performing employees. But then there was another problem.

This friend of mine is just too kind. He could not bring himself to let people go and kept giving excuses to himself that he ought to give them another chance as they have been improving a little in their performance. In fact, he felt that he would have failed them (if he let them go) and not the other way round.

It was the same with the CEO of another company where a friend of mine worked.

Apparently, the major investor in the company had decided to pull the plug after years of pumping in money without seeing adequate returns.

Retrenchments looked inevitable and spending had to be cut substantially.

Again, he found it so difficult to make the announcement on the retrenchments that he decided to step down as CEO so that someone else could perform the deed.

Perhaps to these two gentlemen, it is not just business. It IS personal. Regardless of who has the controlling stake in their companies now, their businesses were their “babies” as they started them.

The same goes for the people they hired — performing or non-performing. These were their employees, not just the company’s employees.

As an entrepreneur myself, I can understand this. We invest ourselves not just in the business, but in everyone who comes on board to help us make the business a success. This goes beyond putting in time and money as we also invest our hopes and aspirations for the company in every person we hire.

Every time someone we hire does not perform or leaves the company, I feel they take with them a little bit of our hopes and aspirations. That is another reason why I think for entrepreneurs, everything about our business is personal.

When a performing or non-performing employee leaves us, to us it is personal. When our business partners withdraw from the company due to disagreement and unfulfilled expectations, it is personal.

And ultimately when our business fail or when we have to make those hard decisions, it is extremely personal.

But we have to realise that the business world can be ruthless. Sometimes things will turn out as planned but not every time. When that time comes, do we have the ability to just treat it as strictly business and not make it personal?

Personally, Jeanisha finds it exhausting to hire and train new people and then doing it all over again when they leave.

It is exhausting to be the sole person to hold everything together and ensure all goes well and that it’s business as usual.

  • The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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Opinion , Starting Out column


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