Integrity is profitable

In his Managing for Profit column of 5 February, Peter Hughes tells how leadership expert Fred Kiel found that businesses managed by people of character made returns up to five times higher than businesses whose leaders indulge in questionable behaviour.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephan Covey follows a similar theme, pointing out that when trust is high, costs come down and returns go up.

In the market agent business, integrity and trust are vital. As I’ve pointed out before, a market agent represents the producer in a financial capacity, and this places an enormous responsibility on the agent to perform with the utmost integrity. Entrusted with produce worth many thousands of rands, the agent is under obligation to act in the best interests of his or her client at all times.

Necessary character
A fresh produce market is surely one of the easiest environments for salespeople to enrich themselves at the expense of producers. This is by no means saying that all market agents are dishonest; the majority are people of integrity. Act 12 of 1992 stipulates clearly how market agents are expected to behave. They also receive comprehensive training in the Code of Conduct, which covers aspects such as conflict of interest and acceptance of gifts.

The Agricultural Produce Agents Council (APAC) acts on behalf of farmers who have been cheated by an agent. This is all well and good, but the bottom line remains the integrity of the individual agent. Is this a person of integrity who acts in accordance with legal, moral and ethical principles?

Private research

For a producer to accurately assess a salesperson at their first meeting is nigh impossible. Yet the farmer needs to feel comfortable about the individual before he or she delivers the first batch of produce. One way is to conduct a little private research and find out what others think of the agent. A person of integrity will be acknowledged as such by peers and clients.

After that, it remains for the two parties – farmer and agent – to build a solid relationship based on integrity from both sides. When they get it right, it works very well.

As Kiel says: “Integrity is doing the right thing at all times, whether anyone is watching or not.”