In ‘Treat your client well, but with a little distrust!’, in a recent Wits Business School Journal, Douglas Bernhardt argues that personal interests always lead to a break in relationships – even those that are long-established and based on trust. To think otherwise is naive.
This brings to mind Anton Rupert. He was lecturing at the University of Pretoria when he started a small dry-cleaning business. It was not a success, so he sold it and purchased a bottle store. It made money. In 1941 Rupert bought an insolvent tobacco company. By 1945 it had gone as far as it could on pipe tobacco and snuff. It needed to make cigarettes.
Rupert telegraphed the legendary Sydney Rothman in London, and arranged an appointment. He took the BOAC flying boat service – a six-day trip – to England, and made his way to Rothman’s office, where he reached an agreement with Rothmans of Pall Mall. He would manufacture Rothmans brand cigarettes in South Africa in exchange for technical expertise.
They clinched the deal with a handshake! A formal contract was signed only three years later, after the first cigarettes had been produced in Paarl. Think about it. A young Afrikaner meeting with an English aristocrat, many years his senior, in London’s business district, and clinching a deal of this magnitude on the strength of a handshake. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
A lesson in trust
Rupert trusted people and they trusted him. This was not a tentative, conditional look-over-your-shoulder trust. This was complete trust. Do you think Rupert would have achieved the success he did if he had adopted Bernhardt’s approach?
The power of real trust can be enormous. I know – I’ve experienced it myself. was making my first budget presentation to a new boss, a successful and respected international entrepreneur. He suggested some changes and we incorporated these. When presented with the final document, he quickly looked through it, said, “Great work, thanks, guys”, and promptly tore his copy in two, dumping it in the wastepaper bin.
Seeing my horrified look, he said: “I don’t need a copy. It’s over to you now. I know that if you have any problems you’ll get back to me.”
In effect, he was saying: “I trust you completely to run this business as we have agreed. I don’t need to look over your shoulder.”
I cannot tell you what a huge motivational impact it had on my commitment to that business. I could never have let him down.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you should be naïve and dole out trust without thinking. My new boss didn’t trust me to the extent of giving me free rein. We drew up the budget together, and he simply let me get on with it, knowing that if I got into trouble I would get back to him.
How do you as a business owner show trust? Do you trust people in an open, generous-spirited way? Or do you remain endlessly suspicious and trust nobody?
This article was originally published in the 4 September 2015 issue of Farmers Weekly.