This is an exercise in reflective writing, as advised by the UvA faculty teaching me advanced English / academic writing.
My experiment in entrepreneurship has been a journey of self actualisation, rather than a pursuit of commercial enterprise. A persistent drive seemed to stem from the desire to manifest my understanding of the world. Young and naive that I was, this understanding faced pitfalls and harsh lessons. Despite steady evolution of my worldview, the journey stayed significantly spiritual and value-based, with my gaze firmly inwards. This is evident from the rationale behind some of my unilateral decisions, which had a direct financial impact on the company.
Flawless yet Brittle
I founded Hammer and Mop, a premium property management company that catered to high net-worth individuals and their residential properties. Field Teams were handpicked and rigorously trained on techniques and service, since ‘how’ you speak matters as much as ‘what’ you speak. Contracts were drawn, with terms and conditions bulletproof and vetted. Contracts were signed by every customer and advance payment made before work commenced. It was a flawless system, constructed for the urban elite and their fine way of living. This brittle flawlessness was about to serve me a lesson on how a contract can be upheld only if the signatories respect its black and white finality.
A cleaner once managed to shatter a vase worth 8000 pounds, and its sentimental value was priceless. It was an honest accident, it had slipped while being moved to a safer location. India did not have insurance for such accidents then, so my private limited company was exposed to the liability. Except the contract clearly stated that accidents may happen, and the company should not be held accountable. The customer was livid, and I was summoned to make amends.
My apologies and an explanation fell on deaf ears, the customer demanded monetary compensation while threatening legal action. Her spouse co-owns one of the largest banks in the country, and the clout she commands is immense. Her contract was worth a third of the amount, and compensating her meant extending her contract without charge for the next couple of years. This meant added costs and increased risks, if we manage to break something again. My 22 year old self faced a stressful dilemma.
There was a clear opportunity to be street smart and fight it out, while risking my fledgeling company’s reputation and possibly severing ties with all residents in her luxury complex. That may or may not have affected my future business development efforts, but would have definitely saved me money. Other option was to bite the bullet and save the company from the slightest risk of bad reputation at the aforementioned cost. I also felt binding guilt for having caused the damage (albeit indirectly), and did not deem it apt to prioritise money over doing ‘the right thing’.
Done and Dusted
My peers, colleagues and investors advised backing out from taking responsibility for the damage. My family heard me out and asked me to decide, trusting my judgement. And while being unsure and partially regretting it for the next few years – I decided to compensate the customer. There came a time in the future when the contract extension was unacceptable, and I had a chance to fight it out again. Instead, I paid the remaining 1000 pounds from my personal savings. “Money will come,” I remember telling myself. “It is never worth a bad word, or slightest regret.”
I still ponder on the decision, wondering my commercial wisdom behind it, or the lack of it. There is a nagging feeling of being taken advantage of. There is a feeling of having been bullied. I’m unsure of what the rich lady truly had to gain. The amount was a pittance to her and our apologies had been sincere. Yet, the decision has been mine and there is no doubt on the ethics of it. If it is money she wanted, I am sure of always having enough to satiate such wants.
A Dollop of Arrogance
And this is where I enter a grey area. My introspection has a mix of arrogance and detachment, a mix of anger and forgiveness. It is also improper to disconnect ethics from commercial wisdom. My decision had a distinct sense of foresight and prioritisation. Perhaps saving money was a short term benefit, and saving my company’s reputation from a malicious campaign was long term.
There seems to be no right answer. It is curious to note how layered our thinking is. How every perspective commands its own position. It is a reminder that our life cannot be ruled into correct and incorrect deeds. Instead, it reveals to a seeker how our past decisions and priorities make us what we are today.