Right now I’m about halfway through reading Bitter Beer, which is about the rise and fall of the Busch family. You may know them as the family behind the Budweiser brand.
It’s really one of the big American Dream success stories. The first Busch to run the business was a co-founder (hence the Anheuser) and about five or so Busches ran the company up until its purchase by InBev in 2008.
So it’s a pretty cool story, but it’s not without a few instances of what you might say were dirty business tactics. I’m just getting into the era when August A. Busch III ran the company from 1974-2002. I’m at about the late ’80s and some interesting stuff was going on.
What’s A Dirty Business Tactic?
At this point in the book is the part where Busch III kind of forced out one of the top execs. After doing so Busch III took more control of the company. The assumption made in the book is that Busch III had more or less failed at his attempt in prior years to expand the company’s portfolio into other areas like baked goods, packaged goods, water, wine and more.
He came back in the late ’80s seemingly looking for a reason to oust the other exec and regain control over the beer operations, which had been booming and carrying the company as losses mounted in other areas.
The whole situation felt dirty. It seemed like Busch III was putting his own interests ahead of the company’s. It also seemed like he put someone that had been part of the company for a long time in a difficult situation.
I guess it all depends how you look at it. Maybe the book overstates what Busch III did. He certainly helped grow the company and make it very successful. Maybe he had other reasons for ousting the exec, but to me the broader lesson is that entrepreneurs and businesspeople are tempted to carry out dirty business tactics.
There is probably more that could be added to this list, but I think dirty business tactics or tricks result from:
- Putting yourself ahead of the business (its success, its employees, its customers, etc.)
- Lying (to employees, colleagues, partners, customers, yourself, etc.)
The tactics, tricks, schemes and actions that result from those things I would consider dirty and in life fraud never fails and these things almost always catch up with those that carry them out.
In the example of Busch III, he was putting himself ahead of the company. However, it could perhaps be argued that he really thought he was putting the company first; even ahead of his personal relationship with the executive. But since the executive had done such a good job for so long it’s difficult to see that argument.
I think dirty business tactics come in all shapes and sizes, but after putting in some thought those three reasons seem to be the source.
Now let’s get into how you can avoid them the best you can as you run your business…
Understand The Business Priorities
In many of the business books I’ve reading, including the Good To Great series, it seems that the most successful businesses and business leaders have always put the business first. Whatever decisions that were made were always made for the good of the organization.
I can see how that is incredibly difficult for some people. I think in many ways we’re wired to make decisions in our own interest. I think it’s something we fight with almost daily. I know I’m faced with those decisions once in awhile. I don’t always think about what’s best for the business. I seem to get lucky sometimes with the fact that what’s in my best interest is also in the best interest of the company. I’m sure that happens often in many businesses.
But that’s not always the case and that’s where the temptation to fall into dirty business can come into play.
Focus On The Long-Term Vision
Not many good business decisions are made thinking about the short-term. You might get away with some once in awhile. Sometimes you just need to make a quick buck to keep the lights on. But the best business decisions are almost always made with the future in mind.
A recent example just came up in the music world. Eric Church, a country music artist, was talking recently about how far out he looks when it comes to his career, which is a form of business. He shared an interesting story.
Ten years ago he released a single and even made a video for the single. But the song never really got momentum at radio so it was shelved and the video was kept away too. At the time, Eric said to himself and those close to him that he would release the video in ten years as a little fun gift to his fans.
Well in the meantime Eric’s career took off and it was fun when he released the video earlier this year.
Now what other artist would think to hold onto a video for ten years? That would be incredibly difficult because in that business it’s all about the current hit and the next hit. They live hit to hit. Thinking ahead ten years isn’t often on the radar.
But in Eric’s case he’s been able to slowly build a really solid and successful career. He seems to have the patience and ability to think way far ahead in his life. He has a vision for how he wants his career to play out and that helps him make decisions.
Once we start getting into short-term thinking it can derail things and put us in danger of making poor decisions and resorting to dirty business tactics.
Take Time To Make Difficult Decisions
I don’t know many good decisions that are made in the heat of the moment. Sometimes it works out, but other times you can really get into trouble and do something regrettable if you make snap judgment.
It’s especially difficult these days to take time to make decisions. If something bad happens people demand answers immediately. It’s hard to take time to make the right decision with all the information you need.
Obviously for some important things you can take forever. Eventually all decisions need be made and if you wait too long you can miss an opportunity or make things worse.
But in general we could probably all take a little more time to gather information and make decisions without short-term emotion playing a role.
We all make mistakes. A final note here is that if you’re in business you’ll definitely make mistakes. It can be embarrassing. It might mean that the company takes a big step back. But usually a mistake won’t be the end of the world. The key seems to be recognizing when you’re slipping and to get back on the right track. You can work to prevent yourself from falling into the temptation of dirty business tactics, but we’re not perfect. If and when it does happen then recognize it and do what’s necessary, even if difficult, to get things back on track.