I have worked with her on numerous projects over the years and have always greatly admired her commitment to excellence in everything she undertakes.
She owns a small company with some thirty employees and her success, I am convinced, has always been tied to her view of the role she plays in the business.
She has long believed that the way to get what she wants is to help others get what they want.
And this philosophy extends to all who interact with her, particularly her customers, her staff and her suppliers.
She sees her role as that of servant – her purpose is to serve those who work for her, purchase from her and provide goods and services to her.
She never deviates from the principles that guide her life and would never even consider compromising those principles in order to further her business.
And she is also one of the most intolerant people I have ever met.
She will not tolerate rudeness of any kind and she will not tolerate abusive behaviour from anyone.
And so it was no surprise to me when, during one of our frequent coffee meetings, she told me that she had recently fired one of her biggest, and oldest, customers.
Her business relationship with this company had begun more than 15 years ago when her company was still in its infancy and both companies had prospered and grown together in the intervening years.
She had developed a close professional relationship with the owner of this company that had matured over the years into one of deep and enduring respect for each other.
And then he retired six months ago.
Shortly before retiring he had appointed his young son as his successor and, it seems, that in this case, the apple had indeed fallen a great distance from the tree.
She explained to me that from very early on in the relationship she realized that her wonderful customer’s son had apparently not inherited any of his father’s positive attributes as both a business person and a human being.
Her first inkling that all was not well had taken place shortly after the son had ascended to his father’s office and one of her long-term, trusted employees had burst into her office and tearfully told her of how she had been the recipient of a profanity laced outburst over the phone because she had failed to return a phone call to him in less than one hour.
As the months moved on she heard more and more stories from her staff of similar conversations between him and them.
Perhaps what was even more disturbing was that her staff were reporting that those types of conversations were not confined just to their dealings with him but that many of the staff members in his company, perhaps emboldened by observing his behavior, now felt it appropriate that they take a leaf from his book and treat her staff with similar rudeness, disrespect and disdain.
She told me that several weeks ago she had gone to meet with to share her concerns about their deteriorating relationship and he had told her that that’s the way he is, that he is not a weak old man like his dad and that she, and her staff, better get used to it if they wanted his business.
She told him that if this behavior continued she would withdraw all services from his company.
He told her she wouldn’t dare.
A big mistake.
Now remember, we mentioned earlier that this company is one of her biggest customers. Losing their business would unquestionably impact hers.
And so she did something remarkably unusual.
She went back to her office and called a meeting of all of her staff’.
She shared with them the discussion she just had with this man and explained to them what losing his business would mean to them
Losing his business would mean that she would be unable to pay the annual bonuses that had become tradition in her company and may even mean the loss of one or two jobs.
She reminded them of her zero-tolerance approach to abusive behavior and that she would immediately begin to diligently seek a new customer of equal size before replacing this one so as to prevent any negative impact to these staff members who had been so loyal to her for all these many years and who she viewed as being members of her family.
And then, she said, a very interesting thing happened.
One of her senior staff members stepped forward and said that he disagreed with her decision.
He said that she had always taught them that respect was more important than money and always doing the right thing was the only choice to make even if it came with a price.
He said that if the cost of receiving a bonus this year was to have to put up with continued abuse from this customer he would prefer to forgo his bonus.
She said that the rest of the staff burst into spontaneous applause in support of his statement and three more came forward to offer their willingness to accept small cuts to their pay in order to ensure that none of their fellow workers would be laid off.
She told me that tears flowed freely down her cheeks as she listened to these folks and realized that that the values she so strongly espoused and subscribed to had become so deeply entrenched in her organization.
At the request of her staff she met with her customer the following day and fired him.
And then returned to her office to find a hastily erected banner that read “We’re All In This Together.”
And as she related this story to me I noticed the tears were flowing again.
Some down her cheeks and some down mine.
And her sales staff had redoubled their efforts to find new business and had brought in enough new small customers to handily replace the lost revenues.
And the day of our coffee meeting was also her birthday.
And her staff had made up a special card for her.
It read: “Relinquishing dignity by accepting abuse in exchange for money is nothing more than slavery. It’s never worth it. Thank you for being who you are.”
A great leader, don’t you think?
Till we read again.