"Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people"
The first week of the year, our entire staff found themselves in a meeting with our health insurance representative. This meant that there was no one to answer the phones... so I volunteered.
After a minute or two of silence the phone rang and I suddenly found myself on the line with a long-time customer and a conversation ensued.
He asked me about how OptiFuse performed last year, and I explained that it was the best year we’ve had in our 23 year history.
I then asked him how his business was doing and what was he expecting in the upcoming year.
He told me that his business was also very strong but that he was embattled in a nasty lawsuit in which he was the plaintiff.
"It’s not like I wanted to sue anyone", he said, "but I really had no choice... the other company failed to do what we had agreed on... and now they want to renege..."
"When I first got into business, we didn’t need a bunch of contracts... we just agreed on the terms... shook hands... and that was that..."
"Now days, I need to have everything in writing because very few people will stand by their word... especially those in large faceless corporations... it’s very frustrating..."
I told him that I couldn’t agree more with him.
When things are good... everyone seems to be on the same page... it’s only when things start to go sideways does a person’s or company’s true character emerge.
I shared with him my own experiences with American Express back in 2008 when the credit bubble burst.
Unlike credit cards, American Express is simply a charge card. It does not allow its customer to keep an ongoing balance on the account but rather requires the balance to be paid at the end of each monthly cycle.
Customers (American Express likes to refer to their customer as members) use their AMEX cards as a convenience not necessarily as a financing tool. In turn American Express, knowing that there is little credit risk with this structure, touts that they do not limit their members spending by having any predetermined credit limits.
OptiFuse regularly used our American Express charge card to purchase raw materials and pay for certain company expenses... averaging about $50,000 each month in purchases (you can only imagine all the frequent flyer miles with this type of arrangement)... which was promptly paid at the end of the billing cycle.
In 2008, the housing bubble burst, sending shock waves into the financial markets unseen since the Great Depression.
Within weeks, I received a letter from American Express telling me that they had reduced my open-ended credit limit to a mere $3,000. I tried talking with them, but it was to no avail. Everything they did was legal and could be found in the microscopic fine print of their terms and conditions.
As you can imagine, this was a severe blow to our cash-flow management.
When things got tough for financial institutions, American Express turned their backs on their most loyal customers and left them in the lurch.
In discussing this situation with several of my business associates, they shared similar stories about American Express so I felt some solace in knowing that I wasn’t the only person treated this way... but still... I have vowed never to do business with this company again.
When things got tough... they hid behind their contracts and legalese...
I recently read an article about a young man named Alex Sheen in an airline in-flight magazine.
Alex Sheen recently celebrated his 29th birthday. On September 4, 2012, Alex’s father, Wei Min "Al" Sheen, passed away at the age of 55 after a brief battle with lung cancer.
Alex was working for a software company in Ohio at the time of his father’s death.
He remembers going into the office the following day just to keep his mind busy, but soon found himself reminiscing about his father.
He then recalled how his father would regularly get angry at people... not everyone... but rather those people who failed to keep their word... including Alex himself...
That thought was an epiphany for Alex... so he sat down and tried hard to recall a single moment in his father’s life that he failed to keep his word... after an hour he simply gave up...
His father always did what he said he’d do... he always paid his bills on time... he always kept his promises...
A few days later, Alex gave the eulogy at his father’s funeral. It was important to him that the people, who were gathered there that day, left the service as changed individuals.
During his eulogy, he decided to hand each person at the service a blank business card with the words "because I said I would... " typed in the lower corner of the card.
The premise was simple... write a promise on a card and give it to another person... when that promise is fulfilled... you get the card back... sort of as a reward...
The promise doesn’t need to be anything big... for example it can be a promise to give blood, lose some weight, finish a project or not hit the snooze button on the alarm for an entire week.
Alex passed out about 200 cards that day.
Later that day, Alex posted on his Facebook page that he would send the first 100 people who messaged him 10 promise cards free of charge.
Due to the viral action of the Internet, soon he was sending cards to complete strangers across the globe... well beyond the initial 100.
At first, Alex addressed and sent the envelopes himself, but it was soon becoming a daunting task.
Alex created a foundation and website (www.becauseisaidiwould.com) to help with the funding.
Volunteers were soon enlisted to help with the onslaught of requests.
So far he’s been able to fund his shoestring operation from donations and sales of t-shirts bearing the words "because I said I would... "
Within the first year, Alex and his volunteers have now sent 10 free promise cards to over 10,000 people throughout the world.
People use their cards for all types of commitments and often send their commitments to Alex, which he posts on the foundation’s website.
On September 3, 2013, Alex posted a video on YouTube with the title, "I killed a man" (click here to watch)... in less than 10 days it racked up more than 2 million views.
The video was a confession by Matthew Cordle who tells the audience that on June 22, 2013, he was driving drunk and hit and killed Vincent Canzani.
A few seconds later Cordle holds up a promise card that reads "I will take fully responsibility for what I’ve done..."
Cordle has been arrested, charged, and sentenced for his crime (6 1/2 years in prison).
Today, Alex continues to receive promise cards from people around the world... people who are committed to commitment...
After reading the article I sent away for my promise cards and received them shortly before Christmas (I also bought a t-shirt, additional cards, and sent Alex a small donation).
Several times now, I’ve had the opportunity to write a promise to someone (or to myself)... a promise that I am sure to keep...
My promise is better than any contract that I’ll ever sign... not because I wrote it down on a small promise card...
...but because I said I would...
Thank you very much for your continued support of OptiFuse where our number one priority is doing what we said we would do...