Does Fairness Belong in the World of Business?

On March 2, 1995, at about 2 in the afternoon, I was “downsized” from the television station in Toronto at which I had been working since August, 1980.

Damn right I remember the exact date and time, as it changed my life.

In the 14 1/2 years that I had worked at the station, most of it as a Writer/Producer, I had received several awards for my productions, but when I was “let go” (as if I had been trying to escape) I was informed in a letter that, due to economic conditions, the company was being forced to downsize. That was complete and utter twaddle as within months or even weeks, the company had hired hundreds of new employees, and over the past 15 years, that number has grown into the thousands. But I, along with hundreds of my former colleagues, was lied to, and fired simply because the majority owners of the company had brought in a new C.E.O. and given him the freedom, if not a mandate to “clean house”.

Was that fair?

In my book “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn into a Nightmare”, I recount the experience that I had in launching one of the first spas in the world for men - and, specifically, how my “dream business” was turned into a nightmare because of my relationship with my investors who acted in a way that I do not believe was fair.

In a recent discussion about my book, a friend asked me what made me think that the world of business was fair. “Didn’t you know”, he asked “that business is a jungle? What made you think that people were going to be fair? How could you have been so naive?”

I have an answer for him.

The answer is “yes”. Yes, I expect people in business to be fair. I expect everybody to be fair, and I try to be fair to everybody - in business and in other areas of my life.

I do not believe that we can draw a circle around the world of business and say, “This is the business world . There is no such thing as fairness here”, and then expect there to be fairness in other areas of life.

Once we begin to erode the fundamental values of society - ( if you don’t believe fairness is one of those fundamental values, get arrested for a crime that you didn’t committ and see how quickly you start begging to be treated fairly) - once those fundamental values are eroded in one area, we begin to lose them everywhere.

And that is exactly what I see happening in our society right now - the fundamental values of decency, honesty, fairness - being eroded every day. Pepople like Bernie Madoff don’t fall out of the sky. They are products of a culture. A culture which we create for ourselves.

Should you treat people fairly in business? Or do you believe, as my friend does, that the concept of fairness doesn’t even come into play in business?

I believe that we live in the world we create.

If you want fairness in the world, be fair. In your business dealings and everywhere else.

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