BIZTIPS - November 25, 2007

Biz Tips: Character Plays Key Role in Business Success
Sunday, Nov. 25, 2007
By Art Hill

I doubt that the recent Oregonian headline about Ryan Bonneau "Real Estate Scammer Pleads Guilty to Fraud" shocked or amazed many readers. It was the second scheme in as many weeks to hit the Portland press. The other was the sad tale of C.J. Brigham who represented himself as a legitimate businessman. Truth is, C.J. was livin' large in the mortgage business on 20 counts of wire and mail fraud, money laundering, and Social Security fraud.

By all appearances, these two characters were "successful." But in less than two years Brigham's address changed from a million dollar home to a penitentiary.

In another case, a young entrepreneur entrusted half her business to a "colleague" who, it turns out, planned to convert her hard work and talent into a gravy train for himself. Fortunately, she had a formal contract and was able to demonstrate that his actions warranted removing him from her business, but not without a procession of attorneys, hearings, and a cooling off period that left a hole in her cash flow.

These tales bear some important lessons for business owners. The first is that you're not necessarily paranoid if you think somebody's out to get you. The report on C.J. Brigham includes "... a (20 year) trail of angry clients, business partners, and frustrated investigators." So don't kid yourself. Put your business relationships in writing and manage them as carefully as you would any other key area of your business.

The second lesson is that business partners and employees are human. Look for, associate with, and reward those whose values and character are based on sound judgment and ethical behavior. While personal circumstances change, character usually remains constant, and it is one of the pillars of long-term business success.

The third lesson is that there is nothing wrong with checking references -- employees, partners, suppliers, professional service providers -- they're all fair game for "due diligence." The young business owner I mentioned was floored when her attorney simply Googled her business partner and came up with outstanding warrants, Better Business Bureau complaints, and at best, questionable previous business ventures.

There's also nothing wrong with updating references periodically. You don't have to go through people's wastebaskets to know what's going on around you. Use available information to support colleagues going through changes and communicate with them to keep your business relationships strong.

Make integrity a policy in your business. Practice it yourself and expect it of your colleagues. If there's evidence to the contrary, address it immediately and directly. Don't put yourself in the position of wading through hearings and settlements. Nobody wants to be at the end of a 20-year line of angry clients and business partners.

During a prison stay in 2003, C.J. Brigham pitched a bogus mortgage program for released inmates. Authorities shut it down. Clever? Yes. Character? No. We all need to recognize the difference.


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