Story 14. Doing Business With Friends.

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I met S for the first time in 1974. I was a visiting customers and he too was as an agent for a big textile company. We kept meeting each other in the market for many years till 1990 I joined the company for which he was the agent. By that time, we had known each other fairly well and both of us had visited each other’s homes many times.

S is a deeply religious person forever going off on pilgrimages and visiting temples. An activity in which his wife actively participated and they were well known for their fervour including their significant contributions to the establishment of a local high school based on Hindu traditions.

S has been blessed with two children the elder a daughter now a grandmother who lives in the same town that S lives in. Her daughter, son in law and grand daughter live in the USA and the proud grandparents often go to the USA to baby sit and shop.

The younger child M, our hero, is a son and also a grand father now. He too lives in the same town and shares the same residence with his father. His two young sons were the first ever in my life to call me grand father. The grandparents doted on the two boys and in many ways, at least in my opinion, spoiled them silly.

When S was our agent for a few years before I retired, M used to work along with his father in the agency. He however decided to branch off on his own as S was quite a control freak and would not let the young man have much freedom. He set up a manufacturing unit rather than start an agency and by all accounts, he flourished. He also became a sourcing agent for a European company and did well on that business as well.

This was however galling for S and when M decided to move his residence to a near by city where his establishment was, relations between father and son broke and they stopped talking to each other. They however needed to communicate with each other on various family matters, and I was elected by both of them to be one of the links. I was and continue to be registered in M’s mobile phone as God Father!

In due course, the grandchildren grew up and the elder boy unfortunately became an alcoholic. He caused havoc in the small town where the family’s reputation and businesses suffered and the family spiraled their way into near penury in a short time with neither the grand father nor the father able to spare enough time and funds to mend damages constantly caused by the errant son.

I had to step in and arrange for the young lad to be admitted into a rehabilitation center and what happened to him subsequently is an entire story by itself. Suffice it to say that for the past one year he has been sober. In the meanwhile, the younger lad was sent to the UK for advanced education at considerable expenditure and on his return he joined M in his business but relations quickly soured between the two as the youngster did not like the way the father was conducting the business.

By now, you would have gathered that the family had become totally dysfunctional and it took a toll on S and his wife’ health with both suffering heart attacks with the latter succumbing to one of them three years ago. M too had an attack and recovered to find everything in shambles and started to rebuild his life with some vigor but had to simultaneously play a number of care giving roles which started to affect his life in multiple directions.

I had linked some of my business associates with M to supply raw materials for his business and when M started to default on payments, I was dragged into the mess with increasing frequency. It was during this period that M stopped taking my telephone calls, which he was doing with his suppliers too. I went through some tough times resolving these issues, which I was able to with some dexterity by linking up with M’s customers and forming a syndicate to sort out the cash flow problems.

As I write this, the problems where I was involved have been solved and M came to meet me last week to apologise and to make amends as it were. He requested me to intercede on his behalf to restore supplies of raw materials on credit, so that he can get back on his feet. I flatly refused and informed him that what made me withdraw my support to him was his refusal to take my phone calls. He pleaded with me that he was going through so many difficulties and was not in a position to answer me with any assurances, but I held firm and said that I had had enough and despite our long lasting and special relationship, I would no longer get involved in business matters but would be available as a family friend. He went away sulking and it broke my heart to see him in that condition but I decided that at my age and stage of life, I can do without such melodrama. I still do not know if that was the right decision but, I have decided to be firm on my resolve.

One of the maxims that is very popular in Indian business circles, observed more in the breach, is not to do business with friends but to make friends with business associates. I give this advise to all my mentees. In this case, I followed the maxim but a friend made via business turned out to be my Waterloo.

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15 Responses to Story 14. Doing Business With Friends.

  1. It seems to me you did make a friend of a business associate, but then made the mistake of getting involved in his business by getting your business associates to supply him with raw materials. Even if he didn’t like it, you’re sensible to say you’re happy to be a family friend, and only a family friend. Either he gets over his sulk or he doesn’t.

    Again, family problems when the father expects the son to work with him. Better to urge the youngsters out of the nest and celebrate their successes.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..A Somewhat Educational Weekend

  2. You might suggest to your mentees that they shouldn’t expect their children to follow in their footsteps.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..A Somewhat Educational Weekend

    • Parallel play works well for parents and children, too.
      Cheerful Monk recently posted..A Bit of Flooding

    • Ursula says:

      I second that, Jean. How much hurt and heartache between the generations could be avoided that way. Though, after all I have learnt about Indian culture – following Ramana’s blog and some of my own research – I think it will take some time to filter through that family harmony does not lie in keeping kids tied – either in business or geographically.

      Ursula recently posted..Splayed

      • I can write about fathers whose sons have refused to join the family business and have prospered too. Like the son in the Refugee story or my cousins’ two sons who have simply decided to go their own ways. It is not as though it does not happen. It is just that it is not the norm even in the professions with doctors, accountants and lawyers expecting their sons to follow them and take over the practices

    • Funnily enough, the current crop of mentees that I have are all childless!

  3. Ursula says:

    I don’t quite understand either why it was your ‘Waterloo’ or that Indian saying. A friend is a friend regardless what came first: The horse or the cart. What I believe to be the main consideration whether to go into business with a relative or a friend I will take up in a post on my blog. You have touched on an interesting subject.

    As to M .. well, I can’t say I blame you for not wishing to get involved further. On the other hand the reason he didn’t answer your calls might have been shame. The things we do when our pride is just about to come before the fall often proving to be self defeating later on. Shooting ourselves in the foot in the long run. That he now ‘crawls’ back to you, swallowing his pride, indicates that he must be either desperate or he is plain lazy seeking the ‘easy’ way out. Who knows. I am a soft touch when it comes to money. When I have it it’s everyone’s. When I don’t … well. Don’t ask. Come for dinner – let’s starve together. May I offer you a glass of Gaensewein? It’s what geese drink: Water.


    Ursula recently posted..Splayed

  4. Max Coutinho says:

    Hi Rummy,

    Oh I agree: avoid doing business with friends. I prefer doing it with family, really – at least we are all on the same boat and bound by blood. With friends, it is a whole different matter.

    You made a tough decision, but a needed one. Had you accepted to be involved in the drama again…you’d probably end up like his father (?) and have a heart-attack. No, enjoy your life and prepare yourself to be a granddad :).

    Max Coutinho recently posted..The Genius of Destruction: The Far Right

  5. KRD Pravin says:

    Uncleji, someone not picking up “God Father’s” phone call is quite surprising (unusual). I mean let my God Father call me, I get so excited that I forget a couple of things which I had planned to tell him (has it happened with you, recently?). If by any chance I miss the call e.g. not in proper network and going out in network, by the time I reach in network God Father cut the call.

    I call back, did you try this with me 🙂 my God Father (mentor, Uncleji etc)?

    Take care uncleji, and wish M – the Hero – comes back winning in the war of life. What if he lost one battle of maintaining relations with you.
    KRD Pravin recently posted..Inclusive growth

    • Pravin, M will indeed come back on top. I have no doubts on that score. There is just one element that can derail him and that is his alcoholic son. In any case, I am no longer capable of handling such business related stress.

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