Battling truth decay

April 1, 2018 - 12:00am -- Chiara Luce Catipon

Battling truth decay
An entrepreneur tests his values in the tantalizing business world of Wall Street

Can you stick to the truth while being a successful entrepreneur? While it may seem like David against Goliath, P. C., the owner of a small security systems integrator company, sees honesty and truthfulness as his slings to face embezzlement. 

His company helps assure travelers’ safety by working with major subways and train agencies on their network communication systems, security, surveillance cameras, intrusion detection and network security. 

He discovered that sticking to his values doesn’t slow his business down — the opposite is true.

How do you try to live out your core principles of honesty in dealing with your clients?

The first thing that surprises my clients is my pricing. Compared with others in my field, I charge only what I truly need to keep the business going with a fair margin of profit. I’ve never believed in price gouging. At times my clients themselves close the deal with a price higher than what I had asked for. 

The second thing is that my clients have seen that when I test and commission a communication system for their acceptance, I tell them exactly how the system was built and don’t hide any of its weaknesses.

This transparency and way of doing business is shared by a network of companies spread all over the world, called Economy of Communion, where reciprocal relationships are at the core of its principle.

Have you ever been tempted to give in to a lucrative but dubious offer?

Yes. Here’s an example: one day, I was approached by someone regarding this huge 10-year contract. He confided to me that he knew some board members of the entity that was to select the best bid. 

When he asked me, “What’s your fee?” I wasn’t sure what he meant. So he explained his plan: we would secretly work together, but submit separate bids. If either of us won the contract, how much each of us would be paid depended on who was officially contracted. 

When I told him that this sounded like collusion, he responded by saying, “No one will find out.” This was a few millions of dollars I could have made, but I had to walk out of the conversation.

I just knew I couldn’t look the members of my staff in the eye as I walked into the office if I accepted the offer. I would be a hypocrite after all my talk about being honest and maintaining our ethical standards.  

Perhaps at times the temptation is not so overt. Any other slippery slopes?

Paying taxes. Small business is about cash flow, and “cash is king,” so it is rampant practice to search and find loopholes in accounting to avoid paying taxes. 

For me, it’s constant research work, self-evaluation, and listening to others to decipher and discern what’s unlawful, what’s lawful but unethical, and what is moral. Examples of these are putting down the exact billable hours, timesheets, keeping personal expenses separate and correct reporting of profit and loss.

How does being truthful play out with your staff or competitors?

Also here, I really live by “The truth will set you free.” I have a small staff, and I always keep them informed of everything that’s going on. I give opportunities to young people but I also demand quality performance. 

I remember having to let an employee go. I had to tell her the painful truth about the client’s dissatisfaction with her technical drawings. After a two-week probation with no progress, I told her that perhaps her skills would be a better fit in another company. She understood, and we have remained friends. 

As for competitors, at times I actually refer them for a job that I honestly cannot take on. At the beginning, I would get that shocked question, “What’s in it for you?” I tell them that it’s more important for me to get the job done, and if they are available and better suited, then that’s what is best for all. They have returned the favor on other occasions.

According to you, can truth be reconciled with business? How?

I think it is with an honest and open discussion, alongside with an informed conscience, that truth can be found. 

I would tell anybody who starts a business: First, don’t be greedy; that clouds judgment. 

Second, think: you may make “quick bucks” but it is not sustainable. 

My experience instead proves time and time again that it’s the relationships that generate money. With honesty comes trust; it translates into goodwill, which fosters greater collaboration, which in turn leads to higher efficiency and productivity.

— Chiara Catipon


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