Volume 36, Number 1, January 2001

Lawrence Logic

Teeing Off

Doing Business the Old-Fashioned Way, With Integrity and Honesty

by Bob Lawrence

Some of you may have noticed that I signed off to my first USGlass column: “See you on down the fairway … ” I happen to appreciate the intricacies of golf, despite the frustrations this sport is capable of provoking. For example, I currently have three sets of irons in various stages of punishment. One set is in absolute purgatory, and will probably never again see the light of day … at least not until next week anyway. My selection process normally involves deciding whether the set that has most recently completed its “in my trunk” punishment phase, has repented all previous, incorrigible deeds imposed on yours truly.

Golf is fun. It is a sport that continually gives the player an opportunity to test his or her talents, confidence, determination, patience and temper. It is a sport that requires one to mix with every type of personality. And it offers a genuine opportunity for fellowship.

Players will demonstrate what kind of people they are by how they play. Most play by the rules, some simply may not know the rules and others will find the simplest of reasons to nudge and knead the rules to their satisfaction … much like what happened in the most recent presidential election. If you want to uncover the true personality of an individual, golf will certainly expose his or her true character.

When you play golf, you keep score, and from the tee through the green, there are rules players should follow. Penalty strokes are imposed when the player encounters certain obstacles and hazards during play. Beginning golfers always start out with nothing in their favor, and know nothing of the rules, courtesy and so forth. Over time, however, most players improve from experience and practice, eventually securing a handicap that pretty much levels the playing field among most participants in the game … so then it becomes enjoyable and fun, with all the challenges and satisfaction that competition offers. Some players never get it … they fudge and nudge and never earn the satisfaction of playing at this level.

By now you are probably beginning to think that “Ol’ Bob” has lost it. What’s this all got to do with the glass industry? Think of when you started out in the glass business and all the hazards and obstacles you overcame to get where you are. Most of us have made a bad mistake or two over the years, learned from them and went on.

Almost 50 years ago there was a businessman who had been given the responsibility of reviving an aluminum company from the brink of failure. The company had a terrible reputation for disappointing customers and had fallen under the scrutiny of its financial and vendor sources. This man quickly learned that the company, despite its hidden strengths, had earned its questionable reputation. He immediately set guidelines in place for all employees to use in their communications between all people who came into contact with this company, and in a very short time turned the company around.
His guidelines:
• Is it the truth?
• Is it fair to all concerned?
• Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
• Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

This same businessman was a member of Rotary, and his guidelines so impressed the world of Rotary International, this “Four Way Test” for communication was adopted as one of the key objectives for this great organization’s vocational avenue of service.

In a competitive world, it is easy to bow to the pressure of nudging and kneading the rules, even innocently. An example might go like this: Distributor A’s charming salesman is led to believe by a glass shop owner that his prices are not competitive. In fact, his price is already low, but his dependability and quality is lousy, thus causing the shop owner to not want to do business with him. The owner doesn’t tell Distributor A that he “doesn’t want to do business with him” so as not to hurt his feelings; telling him that his prices are “not competitive” is the easiest excuse. The salesman, having no guidelines from his manager, lowers the price more, thinking he is not competitive.
Several dilemmas come into play here. If the glass shop owner doesn’t correct the misinterpretation, then “Charming” may now have such a good price that the owner feels he cannot leave that kind of difference on the table, or he passes for better service and quality. Either way, Charming might now go to “Big Glass Company” down the street with this new pricing, thinking that is where he needs to be to be competitive. “Quality & Service Distributor B” picks up on “Big’s” new competitive price and decides to get more competitive because he knows Big buys a lot of glass. However, the new price represents such a lousy margin of profit, that they decide not to offer it to any other customers. The glass shop owner who allowed this whole mess to evolve is now finding it tougher to compete because he’s either (A) paying a higher price than his competitor down the street or, (B), not supporting his preferred vendor and having to put up with lousy service or quality. All guidelines of the Four Way Test are fractured, and everyone becomes a victim; everyone loses.

It’s comforting to know that quality companies tend to migrate towards each other. I’m exceptionally proud that my company is blessed with some of the very best people in the industry. Not only are they accomplished in their responsibilities, they are exceptionally good people, the kind you would want as friends and neighbors. The same can be said of the vendors and customers we deal with on a daily basis. Much of this statement can be attributed to encouraging the same guidelines adopted by that aluminum company 50 years ago. The game is certainly most satisfying when integrity and honesty are represented on the playing field.

See you on down the fairway …

 


USG

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