A loyal as a sewer rat

There has been an incident of late when a couple of people have left an organisation I know has benefitted literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of businesses, around the UK – and have set up on their own. I am sure many of you know who I am talking about. Now everyone has the right to pursue their own kind of nirvana but there are ways and means of doing it.

It reminded me of a time maybe 15 years ago when I re-mortgaged my house and set up a third depot in Kingston. And over 3 months the sales person and team I funded set up our new depot and £300kpa worth of turnover – and then one weekend they did a moonlight flit and took 100% of that depot – its clients, the whole shebang, and all three of them went off and started their own company. Literally leaving me with an empty office, a loan on my house and no depot.

To say I was gutted was an understatement. Put it this way I was quite close to the chap and his family at that time – in fact only week before I’d even babysat his daughter! He was due to receive a shareholding of the company and was a fundamental part of where we were going. But he wanted his own business – and that’s what he did – but took all my funding and all my resources and my goodwill and my TRUST and completely did me over! It was really really tough time – and a time that made me seriously question all that I was doing and how I was doing it. And I’ll be honest I don’t think I have ever trusted anyone in the same way since. Needless to say, over the years, the three of them fell out – but to this day one Scott White still runs a courier company that he set up on my client base.

Neil O’Brien of Accentis Accountants has written a great article on the golden handcuffs which I have copied a link of to below – but in reality when you are a company with limited funds, as we were by then, the cost of pursuing them for their breach of their restrictive covenants was going to be very time and money consuming and probably not successful. And did I mention that they had ‘removed’ their contracts from the employee file as well? Clearly this was something they had really thought through. The best thing for me to do was to pick myself up, dust myself off and get stuck back in.

A period of considerable reflection followed this. Had I not given enough? Had I been too trusting? Had I not really read the character of the man? Was it me? Possible yes to all of that – but in the end the moral of this story is in business shits happen. And all you can do is to understand that as much as you safeguard your business against such events, as morally upright as you can be, and as generous and supportive of your team you are – one day someone will bite the hand that has fed it. That’s business.

Obviously check out your restrictive covenants, make sure you have a contract that highlights the ramifications of acting against company interests and guard those contracts with Rottweiler’s! But more importantly understand that in a lifetime in business, some people just won’t play fair, greed is a very powerful motivator and regardless of how well you treat your team sometimes it won’t be enough. It is THEM not YOU and you just can’t budget for that.

So a salutary tale for us all this week. With a bigger team comes risk, with risk comes exposure. The most important thing you can do is to not expose yourself to too much with reliance on one or two team members – and not abdicate management – but delegate carefully – keep checks and balances in place to make sure you are as safeguarded as you can be – but understand that the powerful motivator of greed can overwhelm even the people you thought you trusted the most. Tough but true I am afraid! Buckle up and prepare – you never know when it’s coming.

I hope it never happens to you – but in all probability in one way or another it will. Toughen up, buckle up and take care. And rest assured you can and will survive it. Have great week.

Article on golden handcuffs from Neil O’Brien of Accentis Accountants.