Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Perhaps you’ve read my posts about my mom’s rapid aging and dealing with her dying process. Also, my trips to Israel always make me think about life tragedies and “the ultimate sacrifices” that so many there have made for their survival. I think of a few close calls I have had with death. Living in Israel, one is surrounded with stories of deep tragedy. I personally missed being the victim of two terrorist attacks by strokes of luck and timing. But I know others whose families were not so lucky. Not too long ago, my wife asked me to put together a list of things to do if I died and she was forced to run the company. (None of this is to say that I am dying – so don’t worry).
The sixties are often romanticized and rightly so, for the new music, ideas and freedoms that came about during those times. But they were also turbulent times. Not too long ago I was on Facebook with a childhood friend from my old town of Cambria Heights, N.Y. She talked about the family decision to leave for the suburbs after her family’s shoe store was robbed at gunpoint for the third time. I have a cousin, whose father-in-law was shot dead in his auto parts store.
A few years ago, I had an employee who appeared very stable. He was a college graduate and married to a successful professional. He was a body builder. Now, I think perhaps he had a problem with steroids. Shortly after he finished training he decided that he wouldn’t be successful with Hearts Pest Management or perhaps he just thought he had a better outlook somewhere else. In the course of the termination discussion, the guy suddenly went ballistic and actually went as far as a death threat. Had I not been protected by my other employees, I do believe he could have carried it out. Later, I found out that he had gone ballistic on another pest control owner.
I don’t know that I can ever convey to people who have not owned a business just what difficult decisions and stressful situations one can be in as the owner of a business. Owning any business is seen as a powerful position by those one employs. They often have no concept of how much the owner does or does not make. If you told them, they probably wouldn’t believe it. They only know that their livelihood revolves around the paycheck. Sometimes there is a huge investment of ego in that paycheck. When a worker feels down on their luck, it can come back to haunt the business owner, whether or not they had any role in the problems of the worker.
I’d be the first to admit that I have not always done a great job of background checks. I often think I did a better job of screening as a manager, than I do as an owner. Yet I don’t know many business owners, especially small business owners, with the time and money to do complete background checks. My emotional, time and production commitments sometimes cloud my judgment. In retrospect it is certainly penny wise and pound foolish. (Interview Technologies, run by Brad Bartlett, has great software called Hire and Retain Good People that is adapted to the pest control industry for candidate and employee assessments that could help making better hiring decisions).
Anyone thinking of owning a pest control company or any company needs to understand the powerful emotional interactions that occur between employers and employees. They need to respect their employees and never, ever give an employee the impression that they are less than or lower than them. Employees are already, by the nature of their position, in an inferior and vulnerable position. Yes, you too, as the owner are vulnerable and there is much that you need to protect – including your life. Just be aware of this power relationship and what it can do to people. Know your personnel. Try your best to always create win-win relationships with your employees. You can’t run your life based on your fears. Nevertheless, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.