Part 1: The Snowman, but not the Iceman

Look at the business relationships that you have, and I bet that that those you have been in for 20 years can be counted on one hand.

I have had a couple of such relationships come to an end recently, and I think there are some good teaching points that we can all learn from my stories.

We will start with the easier one, easier because the person who killed the realtionship was the other guy, not me. Next week, I will fess up to a huge mea culpa, and explain that I now understand the proverb about the bird in the hand, because I screwed up by imagining more birds in the bush.

Let’s start with the snowman.

Snow is just part of the reality of every winter where I live. In my suburban neighbourhood, every house has a double garage and a driveway that is simply too long to shovel. Most of my neighbours pay a few hundred bucks every winter, to one of a half dozen or so contractors, who each have several tractors with huge snowblowers, just to be able to get their cars in and out of their garage and onto the city streets.

We have lived in our current house since 2001, and before that, we lived in the next town over. As such, we had used the same snow removal contractor for about 20 years. Notice the past tense, we “had used”. Up until a few months ago, I would have said that we “have used” the same contractor, but something happened to change that.

Just before Christmas, we headed to our cottage for a week, and for the first time we left our house without a housesitter. Given the weather that occured over the seven days we were away, not having anyone in the house turned out to be a problem.

The precipitation included a mix of snow, wind, freezing rain, more snow, more wind, and more rain. The result, upon our return, was a nice frozen ramp of ice in front of my garage door. A snowdrift became an ice drift, and this ice drift was clearly a problem, because it was a couple of feet high right in front of the door.

I recognized the problem, and concluded that although I was clearly the one who had to live with it, a large part of the blame for the problem lay clearly in the lap of my snow removal contractor, who had not properly cleared the snow before it turned to ice.

When I tried to explain this over the phone, my explanation fell on deaf ears. They blamed me for not having cleared the snow from the first few feet in front of the door, which normally we would have done if we were around.

“Sorry, we remove snow, not ice. It is ice now, and it is your fault, so you have to solve it” was essentially the woman’s refrain when I called. I asked to speak to the owner, she said she would call him, and I said “please ask him to call me.”

When the same lady called me back, I knew that it was over. I checked with some neighbours and now use the same contractor as most of the others on my street.

Why did the owner not call me himself? In twenty years I always paid my bill early and in full, and I have called once or twice to ask when they were going to clear my driveway. Did I not warrant a phone call, so that he could hear my side of the story, about the accummulated snow that they had not removed?

Oh well, I think that the snowman blew it, but he still has plenty of other clients, and likely won’t miss my business.

Next week, look for Part 2: The Patent, but not the Trade Mark.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.