Winning the Battle to Tell the Truth

In my last post, I described the battle in which I am engaged to see to it that the case study which was created by the Ivey School of Business - one of the top business schools in Canada - based upon my book “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare” remains available to students at Ivey and at other business schools around the world which may have interest in using it in their programs.

In the spring of 2009, I submitted a copy of my book to the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, with a view to having it added to the curriculum of their courses in entrepreneurship. In May, I received an email from the Executive Entrepeneur in Residence at Ivey, expressing interest in adapting my book - or my story as I told it in my book - into a case study, as Ivey is one of a number of business schools that uses the “case study” methodology. The case study was written in the fall and posted on the Ivey Publishing website in November of 2009. In December, I received an email from Ivey informing me that my former friend and associate, who is now the president of The Men’s PowerSpa, had lodged a complaint, on the basis that the majority owners of the company did not give their consent to use the case study that bears the name of the company.

My book is a very personal account of one man’s entrepreneurial dream that turned into a nightmare. I wrote it as a cautionary tale to warn other would-be entrepreneurs of the dangers of starting a business - especially a “dream business” - with someone else’s money. Someone who may not share your passion or vision.

I did not expect the majority shareholders of the company that I founded to like my book because it is not a very flattering portrait of the way that people can behave when money is on the table. The lesson of my book is that when money is involved, a number of values which we cherish, such as fairness and even “niceness” can go out the window. You might think that all is fair in business, but I don’t, and that is why I wrote my book.

Prior to self-publishing my book, I consulted with several lawyers, and was advised that as long as my book was truthful, I could defend myself against any claims of libel. Since my book was truthful, I went ahead and published it. And the Ivey School of Business deemed that the story that I told in my book - the story of how my “dream business” turned into a nightmare - was of value to the students at Ivey and at other business schools around the world.

But in December, because the majority owners of the business had not approved of the use of the case study, they pulled it.

This, to me, is analagous to a newspaper pulling a story about the problems at Toyota becasue the owners of Toyota don’t like it. Talk about freedom of the press.

The upshot of all of this is that, as of this week, I was informed that the case study will go forward, in a disguised version, so that readers will not be able to recognize The Men’s PowerSpa.

So, somewhere in the future, students of entrepeneurship at Ivey and other business schools around the world may get to read the story of an entrepreneur who had a dream, and saw that dream turn into a nightmare.

It won’t be my story the way I told it in my book. But it will be as close as it can be, thanks to the majority owners of The Men’s PowerSpa.

A couple of guys who should be ashamed of themselves.

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.

Is it B.P. or B.S.

In my book, entitled “Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare”, I describe in rather excruciating detail what I went through as an aspiring first-time small business owner with an idea for a dream business but no experience running a small business and no idea how to write a business plan.

At the time - the summer of 2004 - I actually believed that there were people out there who knew how to project the revenues for my “dream business” - which was a spa for men - even though the concept was virtually untried - only a small handful of spas for men existed in the world at the time that I was developing The Men’s PowerSpa, and none of them was really very similar to my concept.

Nonetheless, I believed that the accountants, lawyers, business consultants and M.B.A.’s that I hired at various stages in the process could actually prepare an accurate set of pro formas.

And, as it turned out, I staked my business on it because the “financials” in the B.P. created expectations that the business had to live up to.

If you are an aspiring first-time small business owner and you intend to raise money from investors to get your small business off the ground, you will need a Business Plan, or a B.P. Study it very carefully - your business and your life may hinge on its accuracy. If it turns out to be more B.S. than B.P., you will have a nightmare on your hands.

Been there. Done that.