Volume 37, Issue 4, April 2002

Lawrence Logic

A Better Time
       Employing the Values of Years Gone By
by Bob Lawrence

I just turned 54 this year. When I was born, World War II had been over for only a few years. Soon after the war ended, men who had gone off to fight the war reclaimed their jobs from women who had replaced them in the factories; they got married and had kids. Today, we are called Baby Boomers.

Boomers grew up during a time when most mothers’ responsibility centered on nurturing their children’s minds and bodies for success after leaving home. The “man of the house” was responsible for providing a living, a home and an education for his kids, with ultimate responsibility for backing mom up when the children misbehaved. Instilling character and values was the responsibility of both parents, with mother usually being the first to recognize that little Bobby might need some of dad’s special character installation.

Before 1952, television in my hometown neighborhood was something only discussed, not seen. People spent a lot of their free time outdoors and in the neighborhood, or visiting other families and friends. Adults and kids were always together, so it was understood that kids were expected to behave. Everyone played a part in communicating values. Teachers had the right to enforce a structured learning environment with a paddle and without concern for lawsuits.

When TV finally did arrive, my earliest recollections were of the “Ed Sullivan Variety Show,” “Jackie Gleason” and “I Love Lucy.” I remember one television incident when I was about five years old. My mother was never one to accept excuses for delaying any opportunity to dissolve dirt off our bodies, at least not for television. “The Ed Sullivan Show” was about to show an act that appealed to me. It was probably some circus act or some comedian like Victor Borge, (it was too long ago to remember for sure). Anyway, it was time for my evening bath.

Well, the brain is a wonderful apparatus and mine had brilliantly concluded that unplugging the TV would stop the show. Surely it would pick up where it left off when plugged back in, I thought. I learned two things that evening: unplugging a TV without permission doesn’t postpone the show, and in doing so, my backside was beaming proudly from the “character installing” I received as a result of that disconnection.

Television entertainment evolved to “Walt Disney,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “My Three Sons,” etc. Those were good, clean, family shows that always contained character and value themes for the benefit of their younger audiences.

Then in the mid-1960s, television and movie viewers started tiring of full-time family shows, so media executives pandered to more risqué scripts that celebrated characters getting away with something, cheating the establishment and more. Even then, moms and dads had an opportunity to give balance to what their kids were watching because most families still shared dinner and quality time together.

The economy shifted soon after. Families needed or wanted more, so Mom went to work. Kids began staying with extended family, but that evolved to kids in daycare, or no care, and quality time fizzled. For many years now, a number of kids have been spending a lot of unsupervised time in front of the TV.

Legitimate boomers will remember growing up with the Beaver and “Ozzie and Harriet.” Those programs gave kids a pretty good dose of values. It is bothersome that quite a few people we are hiring now are of the generation that grew up with “Married with Children,” “Beavis and Butthead” or “The Simpsons” as potential role models, with few wholesome programs available for viewing. Understand that I’ve had great laughs watching “Married with Children.” However, few can argue these kind of programs are suitable for kids.

Character and integrity are being discussed a lot these days. John Walker Lindh, our country’s spoiled-child Taliban supporter, comes to mind. It appears anything he wanted was accepted and supported by his parents.

Key Enron employees who were on top of the world just seven months ago are probably going to jail—many of those characters are young! The pressure they put themselves under for instant adulation and gratification was tremendous. Their true personas are being summarily dissected, and they reek of influences from the entertainment they likely absorbed during their formative years: cheating the establishment; what’s in it for me?; and no responsibility or consequences for their actions.

Tying all This to the Glass Industry
Our industry is relationship-intensive. Any substantial job is a collaboration of glass shop subcontractors and suppliers getting together to work out details of what is needed, when and how, then budgeted and quoted. With the majority of glass shop owners, “If you help me get the job, it’s yours, too,” is an implied commitment upon which you can usually depend, and a handshake is certainly good enough to secure that commitment. Mutual trust plays a significant role in this activity.

Is what happened to Enron a precursor to problems some in our industry might experience? Maybe. For all of the above, there is good reason to do an inventory of the character in the people we employ (you’ll hear more about this later). How about an inventory of customers? Since I am a fabricator, the following views are those that a supplier might have.

While there is a high percentage of owners and operators in the glass trade with quality scruples, a clown owner/operated glass shop can sure mess up the works. Two habits I find most distasteful in clowns is consistently selling cheap, then taking the opportunity (after getting the job) to find much of their profit through “the auction.”

“The auction” is one of those things clowns do to leverage a better cost than the quoted cost he used to get the job. This practice includes using suppliers that were unsuccessful or uninvolved in the original quotation.

Are clowns getting away with something? Yes. Are they ethical? Certainly not. Are there consequences?

Logic dictates we ask the following questions. Why give assistance to someone who flagrantly jeopardizes the skinny profit suppliers usually have in quoted services? Why support someone who is instrumental in driving our sales and market prices down and forcing our responsible customers to meet cheaper prices? Answer: smart vendor/suppliers will re-focus their efforts on trusted customers with whom they can actually make money. For this reason, clowns, if they survive, should never be buoyed by a supplier capable of good service and quality at the expense of a responsible customer. For what they represent, clowns should be relegated to buying from suppliers who are similarly ethically challenged, or not at all.

Integrity is paramount to any long-term successful business story. Try to remember this statement: at the sacrifice of all else, and given the opportunity, quality customers and suppliers will always eagerly migrate to each other for trade. They understand and depend on each other for opportunities and profit, and know they can depend on each other when a problem arises. One of my favorite old Texas sayings is “Ya dance with who brung ya.” How relevant.

As we old guys grow and mature in our business, we become more reliant on younger employees. They’re our conduit to the customers and suppliers we have worked so long and hard to nurture. As with Enron, we cannot permit ourselves to find out after the fact that our employees allowed something to go wildly wrong. We owe it to ourselves to be sure those employees who are making decisions for us have a clear understanding of our policies, and that we expect them to conduct our business transactions with integrity.

Let me know if you remember “Partners in Profit.” I always liked that phrase. I have been in this business for more than 33 years, and I’ve learned to have the utmost respect for the power of business relationships built around a consensual fair profit, service, quality and customer satisfaction. This nurtures great lasting relationships.

Time to go … see you on down the fairway!

 BOBL Bob Lawrence serves as president of Glass Wholesalers Inc. in Houston. His column appears quarterly. Contact him at bobl@gwiweb.com


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