Saturday, June 30, 2007

When Your Boss Is A Sleazeball

When walking into a job interview, it's pretty unlikely that your prospective new boss will tell you that he or she is a dishonest and unethical person. It is even more unlikely that the boss will tell you that you will be expected to be equally sleazy if you expect to keep your job. It's only after you take the job that you are likely to find such things out. Then such a boss may try to corrupt your soul as well. If you cannot be successfully tempted, you are likely to be fired.

Example: I once worked for a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Harvard University. The name of the company was "Tech Hi-Fi". They sold very expensive stereo equipment.

Whether or not it was worth that kind of money is highly debatable. We did sell name brand equipment from companies such as Klipsch, which (at the time) made speaker cabinets the size of small elephants. I remember that those speakers were very loud, but also very shrill sounding. Fortunately, their products have improved over the years.

I thought, when I was hired, that I was going to be a sales person there. Naively, I thought that some training would be provided, and I also thought that we would be furnished with literature with which to acquaint ourselves with the basic selling points and features of the various pieces of equipment which we had in stock so that we would know what to recommend in particular situations. After all, a mismatch between a power amp and a pair of speakers (in terms of wattage and other characteristics such as output impedance) can create big problems, such as heavy distortion or blown speakers. I was no expert, but I knew enough just from reading Stereo Review to know that that was the case. If we weren't told how to put together a compatible system which would please the customer for many years, how could we conscientiously and competently do our jobs?

However, when I asked for such information, I was blatantly ignored, or told that I didn't need to know such things in order to be a good sales person. Their idea of "training" me was to tell me to watch the sales people who had been there longer than I. So I watched and learned. I learned things I wished I had never learned. Among other things, I learned that the customers who provided the business with its bread and butter were held in derision by some of the sales people.

One day, one of the managers started bragging and laughing (when no customer was there to hear it) about an incident in which he'd sold a turntable to a customer. (This was back in the days before CDs ever came onto the market.) Knowing that carbon fiber tonearms were highly prized, he told the customer that a particular turntable had such a tonearm. In fact, the tonearm was not made from carbon fiber. It was just aluminum which had been painted black. This guy knew that that was the case. He was obviously proud that he'd deceived a customer in order to make a sale.

I criticized him for his lack of professional ethics. I told him that I would not be willing to knowingly lie to customers. In response, he ridiculed me for my alleged "naivete", and he implied that one of the requirements of my new job was to follow in his footsteps in that regard.

Part of the reason for my unwillingness to lie to customers was that I was a Christian who took morality seriously. My Bible said that one should treat others as one wished to be treated. I was just silly enough to believe it. But it wasn't just a matter of religious conviction. It was also a matter of common business sense.

How do you suppose that customer felt when he got home, accidentally scratched the tonearm, and discovered that the tonearm was actually aluminum painted black? I know how I'd feel. I'd be very angry at the sales person who had lied to me for the sake of a sale. Not only would I resolve never to buy anything there again, but I would very likely tell friends about the experience whenever the subject of audio equipment came up. I would demand a refund, and I might even contemplate suing the business in small claims court if I didn't get satisfaction.

In the long run, if enough people were treated in such a shady way, it would be sure to harm their business. But I soon realized something about my professional "mentor" at that store. He didn't care about the long run. He was there to make a quick buck and then skedaddle before anyone in the outside world got wise to his tricks.

There was just one little problem. I was that little problem. Once that manager saw that he couldn't intimidate me into approving of his tactics, he saw me as a threat. So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened not long after that.

I was called into one of the back sales rooms and told that they were "letting me go". I wanted to know why. I was never given any concrete answer to that question. Instead, I was told that I "just wasn't working out". It left me feeling mystified for a little while, until I started replaying past incidents in my mind and realized that there was a connection between my unwillingness to lie for the sake of a sale and their unwillingness to keep me on the payroll.

There's a principle of reciprocity, in this life or in the next. What goes around comes around, even if it sometimes takes a while for such justice to be made manifest.

It's possible that the guy who lied about the turntable made a few extra sales as a result of his dishonesty, but I wouldn't want to be in his shoes on Judgment Day, unless he repents.

As Jesus asked: "What profits a man if he gains the entire world but loses his own soul?"

I discovered, only a few months after being fired, that the store had gone out of business. There's a lesson in there somewhere, I think.

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