Last week in a little hillside village, not so far away, an elderly lady was busying herself around the house when she was interrupted by a knock on the door.  The caller was a charming young woman who told the old lady that she and her husband were in the area sharpening knives. This was excellent timing as the old lady’s knives were very blunt and her husband eyesight was no longer good enough to sharpen them himself. After winning the old lady’s confidence, the young woman managed to persuade her to hand over all of her best knives and reassured her that she will bring them back safely within the hour. 

Meanwhile, ninety kilometers away in the capital city of Europe, two businessmen were sitting down for lunch in a Portuguese restaurant. They chose the day menu; fresh cream of vegetable soup followed by roast duck with hand cut fried potatoes served on a bed of freshly prepared salad.

Back in the hillside village the young woman has returned just fifteen minutes after collecting the knives and is demanding two hundred Euros in cash.  The old lady doesn’t have this kind of money in her purse and her husband is searching everywhere around the house to find the extra to make up the balance.  The knife lady is cool and very persuasive, eventually all the savings pots have been emptied and two hundred Euros is exchanged for the sharpened knives. 

Two and a half hours after their meal began, the businessmen finally ask for the bill. It comes to exactly 26EUR for the both of them and this even includes a very acceptable bottle of red wine and coffee and biscuits.  When enquiring if there has been a mistake, the owner of the restaurant tells them that everything is as it should be and that 26EUR is the correct price for his ‘recession special’ menu.  He hopes that they will return again soon, possibly bringing their wives with them for an evening meal.

When we start out as entrepreneurs sometimes we only have the outline of our business model but we always seem to know the service we want to offer and what level of income we expect in return. In today’s examples, while the meal was hot and delicious, the knives were rendered useless and were returned in a far worse condition than when they were handed over. 

“Don’t take it personally, it’s only business” are words I have heard one or two times too often in my career.  I wish there was something we could do to regulate against tricksters and crooks, but no firm of lawyers or  group of politicians can ever stop them all. The problem is that when a business, no matter its size, has lost its sense of moral decency, it is extremely hard for it to ever get back to an acceptable starting point again.

Have a good week,