Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Risky Business


I am not a businessman. I’m not playing with gender here, because I’m not a businesswoman either, and even if I were, the last six months have proven to me that it’s being a businessman that really counts. I have never claimed to be a businessman, nor do I have any desire to be so, but in my line of work, being as tied as it is to the construction industry, there is an essential and growing need to “do business”. In fact, I, as I am nearly daily reminded by my boss, have no degree or advanced coursework in business. Aside from being reasonably good at what I do and able to write an articulate sentence and perform elementary math functions, I am almost wholly unqualified for business. However, being a geologist, this is not something that has typically been a problem. Until recently.

The recent economic crisis has left my place of work a barren wasteland of empty cubicles and lost bids. The men that remain are largely shells of their former selves, clearly having spent most or all of their adult lives defining themselves by their jobs and paychecks, they are now leading obvious lives of quiet desperation. What remains, before we’ve even seen signs of recovery, are desperate men clinging to the tenants of “business” and convinced that if they proceed exactly as they have in the past, using the same business models, something will change. By necessity, my education in “business” has been rapid.

What I’ve largely learned is this, honesty is not important, not to clients, but particularly not to staff. Neither is humanity nor compassion, employee loyalty is only valued in good times, in bad times, just cut them loose. Preserve, above all else, the profit margin for the owners and the inflated salaries of management. Claiming to be right is more important than actually being right, and the only people who are every really right are the ones with the least actual knowledge of the subject. Salaried and exempt employment in hard times is license to take over the lives of your employees, how about say, going to Texas, unexpectedly, with the flu, for many weeks, to work 90 hours a week and only be paid for forty? Hey, you don’t want to do it we’ll find someone more desperate than you who will.

They say in hard times you see peoples true colors, but in truth, with business there’s only two colors, red, and black. And as far as I can tell, real “businessmen” will do whatever it takes to stay in the black, as long as it poses no threat to their egos, salaries, or established operating procedures. And we wonder how we arrived to the place in which we find ourselves.

I invite everyone to take a moment to inventory your value system, and look hard at what really motivates your decisions and the way you treat the people that you work with and those that work for you. If it’s your mortgage, your car payment, the lifestyle to which you’ve grown accustomed, or professional ego, then the current economic crisis offers you an opportunity to tap out of the fight, implement a new business model, live under a new paradigm. It’s the only path we have to a sustainable economy.

Photograph courtesy of :


  1. hmmm paradigm shift. I wrote a blog post about that in my head the other day... just haven't put it on paper yet.

  2. I'm hoping you meant "TENETS" of business...rather than the tenants...