“In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone”
John Kenneth Galbraith
Shortly after receiving my first promotion to Customer Service Supervisor, I was confronted with my first managerial quandary. My company would often consign products to large customers in the hopes that it would stimulate the purchase of large quantities of them at a later date. As such, in reviewing the list of outstanding consignments, I noted that several TV’s that had been shipped to a local hotel had never been returned, even though the consignment had long since expired. I knew that the popular thing to do was to look the other way. It seemed like no one was conccerned about it but me. That probably should have told me something, but it didn’t. I confronted our salesman who assured me he would take care of it. After an appropriate time had passed and nothing had happened, I drew up an invoice and sent it to the hotel management with appropriate documentation requesting either the return of the product or payment for it.
It took only a few days before I was summoned into my managers office where I was asked if I realized that “I had placed the General Electric Co in an uncomfortable position with Holiday Inns of America. Due to the minimal cost of the product, GE was going to just write them off. The lesson was that I needed to temper my approach and consider consequences when dealing with large customers, or any customer for that matter. Point taken. However, one of my responsibilities, albiet distasteful, was to administer the account. Although my approach may have been a little abrupt, they could not criticize me for doing my job.
Over the years, as I progressed through the ranks, I became more pragmatic, but still not willing to compromise my principles, even if it meant risking criticism. I once told a sales manager that I would not be able to honor his request for a truckload of freezers he saw sitting in the distribution warehouses inventory as they had been forecasted by another sales region for a promotion and I was not at liberty to let him have them without checking with his counterpart in the other region. Sales managers were not used to people saying no, especially people several notches down the totem pole from them, and I knew that going in. Needless to say, the news reached my boss before I even got back to the office, and I was summoned upon arrival. Upon entering my bosses office, he asked me what I had done and I reiterated my conversation, whereupon he said, “you have got to be the most unpolitical person I know, but you were right. I have called the other sales manager and he absolutely refuses to relinquish the product.” Score one for my side. Sometimes you can win a round, if not the match.
And so it goes, similar situations raising their head throughout my career. So many opportunities to take the easy way out. But, if after considering all the alternatives and deciding, in my mind, the right thing to do, I knew what direction I had to go.
I often thought about when my working days were over, that all those issues would mean nothing, if I remembered them at all. What would be important was, did I do what I was supposed to do, given the responsibilities with which I was charged. Did I maintain my ethics and values, even when the decisions were hard or unpopular.
I suspect I have become obsolete, because it presently is a different world then the one I lived in most of my life, given today’s environment. My dad would say “you are the only one that can compromise your integrity.” I took that to heart and am pretty comfortable with the result. He was an unskilled laborer with a grade school education, but he lived by his values and instilled them in his kids. But it’s not that way today it seems. I feel like I must have eaten the last cookie. Just sayin.