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Trust is something that often takes a long time to earn and seconds to lose.  When I was twenty-four years old I had a lesson where I learned this in a most painful way.

At the time I was in the vending business and I had just bought a very small branch operation from my father.  We essentially had one account (Imperial Paper) where the personnel manager had a good relationship with my father.  My father managed to transfer those good feelings to me.

Shortly after I bought this small one account company from my father we had an opportunity to buy out a competitor and overnight my company went from having one half an employee to one with twenty employees and almost $2,000,000 in annual sales.

This was the mid 70’s and inflation was just starting to kick up.  I needed to raise some price at our accounts.  One of the accounts we needed to increase prices at was Imperial Paper.

When I presented the case for our needed price increase our contact at Imperial wanted to make sure that our pricing at his location and Georgia Pacific (a similar account) were the same.  I assured our contact that all prices were the same, knowing full well that our hot canned food prices at Imperial would be higher than they were at GP.

Hot canned food was a minor item in our sales mix.  Of the $1,500 per week we did in sales we did about $40 of those sales in hot canned food.  Even though I knew our prices would be 5 cents per can higher at Imperial than Georgia Pacific I told a little lie.


What I learned was there is no such thing as a little lie.

Our contact at Imperial went to Georgia Pacific and compared all of their prices to the ones that Imperial was paying.  When our contact at Imperial found the one small price discrepancy he didn’t call me, he called my father.

My father was embarrassed.  He can screaming up the Interstate from Glens Falls to Plattsburgh, dragged me into the client’s office, and proceeded to yell for about 20 minutes about what an ethical slug I was. 

Not only was I embarrassed but I lost the trust of both my father and a long-time client.  I eventually got the client’s trust back, but it took a very long time.  He brought up the incident of the different prices of canned food for years.


There is no substitute for telling the truth all of the time. 

I didn’t tell the truth in the first place because in the short run it was easier than having to change hot food prices at both locations at the same time.  I went for expediency instead of doing the right thing.  I learned on that day that there is no such thing as expediency.  Taking short cuts with honesty will always catch up with you.

Trust is a fragile thing.  You have to work hard to build and maintain it.  Even little lies that you think don’t matter do. 

Thinking back on that day I remember the sick feeling I had in my stomach.  I felt I let down both my father and my client.  As Buckminster Fuller would say, “you don’t learn less”, and that was certainly true on that day.

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Topics: business relationship management, lessons learned, trust, learning experiences

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