Many years ago, I had a job as the assistant to a mid-level executive at Warner Bros. As a result, I spent a lot of time around people in the entertainment industry and learned firsthand how vain, petty and unscrupulous they can be.
A notable exception to this was my boss, Jack. Unlike most of our colleagues, Jack never played corporate politics, didn’t gossip and gave everyone he spoke with complete attention and respect. And he was kind. When I was passed over for a scholarship at a prestigious writing program called Breadloaf, Jack went out and bought a screwdriver and a loaf of bread, and left them on my desk to cheer me up. The joke itself (“screw Breadloaf”) wasn’t what seemed remarkable. Rather, I was touched that my boss — a man I wasn’t particularly close to — had gone to that much trouble to be supportive.
When I first started working for him, I was sure Jack would never get promoted. Though he was great at his job, it seemed impossible for anyone so ethical, so just plain nice, to ever really thrive in the entertainment field. But I was wrong.
Unlike many executives who connived their way to the top, Jack’s career took off because even the most jaded people knew they could trust him. He had no agenda and was impossible to dislike. Today, Jack is a highly successful writer and producer. I haven’t seen him for 20 years, but in Googling his name to write this column, I clicked on a number of Web sites containing comments about what a great guy he is.
Working with pool and spa companies two decades later, I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon. This industry has its share of enormous egos and shady practices, but with a few exceptions, those people don’t make it to the top. Almost every large builder or retailer I know also seems to be a genuinely decent human being. Many are active in their communities, help out staff members and participate in bettering the industry, not for selfish reasons but because they truly care.
It may sound naïve, but I believe that for business owners, kindness and good values are some of the predictors of success. Conversely, cutting corners, badmouthing the competition or inserting your own agenda into an industry debate may pay in the short term, but over time, those actions actually work against you.
Take the high road — the scenery is great and you’ll feel better for it.