Mixing business and politics.

My father always had what would be called an entrepreneurial streak these days. Given that he was born at the start of the last century, we’re not talking high-tech startups here, but rather knowing he was the youngest son and therefore wouldn’t be inheriting the modest farmstead they’d all been brought up on, he got himself apprenticed to a steam engineer, which everybody knew was just plain madness, because he was so good at working the land and had an affinity with farm animals. Farms would always need horses and those who could tend to them. He had a practically guaranteed living doing that as a hired man for the rest of his life.

However, he stuck with it and learned the trade of a rule of thumb engineer, which is what a gifted mechanic, which he was, actually is. Towards the end of his apprenticeship, these automobile things were starting to appear, albeit in vanishingly small numbers since nobody but the very well to do could afford them.

On the very first day he stood in an open field and watched a tractor powered by a four-stroke engine plowing, he knew steam power which he was by now an expert in, was as doomed as the horse power it’d replaced, so the last three years of his life might not have been the bright investment in his future he’d hoped it would be. He’d have to learn about this whole new technology, and he did so by sheer dint of explorative learning and an instinctive insight into how machinery worked, the like of which I’ve never since encountered, and I’m pretty bloody handy at that sort of stuff myself.

It may mean nothing to you if you’ve never worked on a car engine or are not a piston head, but he once taught me to work a screwdriver held between my teeth along the tin rocker cover atop of a running car engine in the workshop, and just from the bone vibrations going through my teeth and into my skull, which of the two tappets on the four cylinders needed “hot” adjusting. He was that good, and that inventive in terms of what’s falling to hand diagnostic techniques.

To this day, I can hear a motorbike go past and know the cam chain tensioner needs adjusting, or a car ticking over that needs the overhead cam clearance looked at before it pits the valve seating. I’d been trained by a master mechanic. When it came to his profession, he’d no time for mediocrity. God gave you all these wonderful senses, make full use of all of them.

When he realised the most unlikely of his sons had a smidgen of his talent, he’d tease me. “How many thous is it out?” meaning how many thousandths of an inch on a feeler gauge was the adjustment out. Tinny irritating vibrations was a small gap, big hammers pounding up through your incisor teeth meant it was big, so I learnt to give a decent answer.

I was a loving son who’d never gone through the despise your parents phase as a teenager, because I knew just how far out on a limb they’d gone for me. I loved finishing a Saturday working with him, washing the engine oil off our hands on a hub cap filled with paraffin on the workbench. Though he never said so, I knew he enjoyed having a son there he could pass on a few of his really slick moves to. I was just happy to be working with my dad and helping him to kick some money into the family pot. It was a big family and the margins were quite thin. We never missed a meal, but I think we came fairly close once or twice.

As much as he enjoyed teaching a son the finer points of his trade, there was absolutely no way he would countenance me becoming a self-employed one man band mechanic in a rented lockup garage working on other people’s swanky cars. There was no shame in supporting a family in that fashion, but both he and my mother, the same as most people of their generation, weren’t content to just support their family – that was a given – but the grand aim was to catapult the kids upwards to a strata that wasn’t quite so hard to make a living in. I knew they’d certain fond hopes for me and tried to be a dutiful son in that respect.

Looking back on it, I see now my father’s insight into me was stark, it was clear. I was panicking a bit from over loaded expectations to succeed or crash and burn from various sides, and as with all children being stressed and on the transit from there to being adults, just wanted something simple to do like strip an engine, replace a few broken piston rings, and go home with it all done. Comfort. No complications, no expectations, no more exams that absolutely had to be passed, fixed, out the door, done and dusted, but he wasn’t about to let me have that easy out.

Showing his insight, he let me have Saturdays off from my studies by allowing me to accompany him spanner in hand into the innards of some car or a massive diesel lorry, but the hints and tips moved subtly from car mechanics to business. From the difference between the various standardisations of AF or Across the Flats, Imperial, Whitworth and the metric system of spanner sizes to the more intriguing area of how to run a business.

He knew exactly the hook to dangle before me to ensure I’d never duck into the easy comfort of being a grease monkey forever working for somebody else. That wasn’t a disrespect of his way of making a living. Looking back on it, I can imagine his line of thought. I didn’t take all those risks to get out of rural poverty just so you could just sink into the urban equivalent of it. I’ve worked too hard to make sure you’ve a lot more options than I ever had. Here’s the ball, carry it forward.

On the rare occasions he spoke his mind to you and had a direct in your face conversation with you, he really didn’t fuck around. Suddenly you’d see the dangerous flash from him. Kindly over easy Dad was all of a sudden someone a little bit scary who was just telling you how the real world actually worked. It wasn’t cynicism, but rather a reality drench. A needed wake up call from the silly delusions of youth. The fact that he was giving it to you, meant he thought you could understand. Of all his children, I think I might have been the only one to have seen that edge of him, and only because he deliberately chose to show it to me.

I always sensed there was that thing about him. It’s like being out in the country on a warm Summer’s evening. You see someone on a distant hill. There’s a natural impulse to start walking down the glen and up towards them, but you just know that guy will turn around and walk away at your first move in their direction. Some people have a carefully guarded personal space that can’t be invaded.

It was just as practical and satisfying a skill he was teaching me as working on an engine. The first and big lesson was that when you’re in a bad situation, you either accept the limited options inherent in that situation, or you have the imagination, and the courage, to step out of it and change the situation to break the limited set of crappy options available to you in that situation. It seems an obvious piece of advice, but you’d be surprised at how many people can’t see it.

His pride would never allow him to be a hired man working someone else’s land for the rest of his life. It’s really up to you to change the situation. You had to spot the openings, as in abandoning the land for learning about steam power against all commonly accepted knowledge. And when a few year’s down the line that choice needs adjusting, you damn well have to make that adjustment.

Being the only man for four counties around who knew how a car worked, never mind being able to repair one, he worked that vein into having his own workshop which then became a petrol station. After a few years of building the business, he’d made enough to buy some land. The hired man that he was destined to be, now owned his own farm. Over the months, listening to him feeding me a steady stream of pearls from a life in the ups and downs of business, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

Of his six sons, I was the only one who would make a living by going into business for himself, which only goes to show how dangerous it is to let a kid help you out as you’re doing that relentless six-day a week job of keeping a small business afloat. He didn’t tell me how a general ledger worked, I learnt that out for myself years later, but he gave me the essential outlines of how to run a successful business.

He’d fallen seriously ill in his mid forties, spent two years on his back and went down to seven stone, but in the meantime, all he’d patiently built for half a lifetime had disappeared under a mountain of doctor’s bills and the lack of a proprietor to run it on a day-to-day basis. Lost the lot, except for a few little piggies he’d prudently hidden away. When he’d recovered, he went straight back into business, albeit in a more modest context. Once you’ve tasted meat, you’ll never go back to gruel.

Business is simple really, he told me. There’s some service you can provide to people and they give you some money back in exchange. You don’t try to cheat them, short change them or make them feel as if they’ve been taken advantage of. You give them a fair exchange. It doesn’t matter whether they’re tall or short, rich or poor, whatever politics they have or what particular church they go to – you just make the honest deal with them that they’ll begin to rely on. They come to know they can trust you.

If you screw up on a job, you put your hand up to it and tell them you’ll fix it, and there won’t be any bill either.

That sort of attitude to his clients was the reason he’d a “little black book” that had service bookings stretching out a year in advance. He’d do the work, but once they’d dropped off their car, he’d offer them a lift to whatever railway station they needed. He’d pick them up in the evening as well if he thought they weren’t too good on their pins. Perhaps only a five-minute drive, but that’s how customers become friends. I watched him do a lot of simple thoughtful things like that and learned a lot about how to really conduct a business. He wasn’t being manipulative, just decent with his clients. I folded so much of it into my own adventures in the commercial world.

The big lesson he taught me was that there were lots of different businesses you could start with lots of different names, but there was only ever one in town, and it was called repeat business. If you do right by them, they’ll stick with you. If you cheat, offend or insult them, they walk away and they’ll never come back either. What’s more, they’ll make a point of warning everyone they know about you.

Of late, I’ve watched so many decisions that run contrary to such simple precepts of how to conduct a business. They’re all needless and self-inflicted wounds caused by mixing politics into your business. If you decide to link your business to left wing politics, then guess what, you’ll lose half your customers. If you decide to weld your business to conservative politics, you’ll lose all your leftward leaning customers. You don’t exactly have to be a graduate of the Harvard Business School to see that, but seemingly a lot of people in charge of companies can’t.

From most recently watching an employee of a business feeling free to throw a soft drink in the face of a sixteen year old while stealing their MAGA hat – two felonies BTW; one is assault and the other is theft, to refusing service to the family of Trump’s press secretary and then dogging them down the road into another restaurant to insist they shouldn’t be served there either.

Declaring with great fanfare their changing rooms and toilets are now gender free, which means no bloody parent would allow their child to use that facility after they’d seen some hob-nailed bloke clump into it in high heels. It just ain’t going to happen. Parents just don’t take risks like that with their children. They’ll shop somewhere else they feel isn’t infested with potential sexual predators they’re supposed to feel virtuous about by offering up their children to have a crack at them.

A third-rate actor flying on the coat tails of a father who had some stature makes some way off the reservation remarks and expects everybody to forget what he said in a few tweets he’s belatedly decided to delete – the film he’s in opens to a record $30,000 disaster weekend, he’s unemployable henceforth. He now shares his sister Hanoi Jane Fonda’s curse – nobody can use them because they’re box office poison. Career ended.

A bunch of overpaid NFL sportsmen deciding to drag politics into sport, and then watching their sport drop nearly instantly from the number one spot to number three and still in free fall. Sport, believe it or not, is a business and the days of the multi million employment contract are now over. The third stringer quarterback who started it all has now been unemployed for nearly two years. No businessman in their right mind will touch him with a barge pole.

Employees of a coffee shop chain feel free to spit in your pre-ordered coffee before you come to collect it, because they’ve decided they already know your politics. When you find out that they’ve been boasting on their Facebook page about such heroic exploits, do you ever go near them again for a coffee? Never going to happen.

It hasn’t helped that the management of the same chain recently decided you can hang out there without even buying a coffee. That brilliant decision seems to have condemned their toilets to being drug injection zones even their own employees fear to go into because of getting an HIV positive jab from a discarded needle.

A natural consequence of being in business, is that you invest in other businesses you think are being well run. The examples I’ve just referenced are indicative of a stupid business mentality. If I owned any stock in those companies, I’d be demanding senior management resignations at the next stock holder’s meeting.

If you want to make grand gestures, do it with your own money – not mine.

©Pointman

Related articles by Pointman:

That stuff, is it beautiful?

On a fine woman, swans and a moment long ago.

Teachers.

The difficult kind.

Click for a list of other articles.

 

Advertisements
Comments
6 Responses to “Mixing business and politics.”
  1. Graeme No.3 says:

    “If you want to make grand gestures, do it with someone else’s money” – from HOW TO SUCEED IN MODERN POLITICS.

    Like

  2. Blackswan says:

    Pointman,

    How many of us consider the family unit as being ’shareholders’ in the original and most basic of ‘business models’? Your father was astute in knowing you’d be the next likely CEO.

    And you’re absolutely right in saying Business that panders to political expediency of any stripe risks losing half their customer base.

    As consumers we have the power of deciding where we’ll spend our discretionary dollar, and … who will profit from it.

    For decades I’ve run personal boycotts against publications and products from various suppliers and countries-of-origin who have pissed me off for one reason or another. Do I think their economies will crumble because I won’t buy their product? Of course not … but it’s enough for ME to know that I haven’t contributed a single dollar to their corrupt profits.

    Now, if only we could insist our politicians stop making their “grand gestures” with OUR tax dollars.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. rapscallion says:

    “If you decide to link your business to left wing politics, then guess what, you’ll lose half your customers.”

    Tilda did this recently – the company that produces basmati rice in those blue and silver packets. Well they thought it was a good idea to get behind Bliar, Clegg et al and their call to stop Brexit.
    Guess what, I won’t buy anything marked “Tilda” ever again.

    Like Blackswan above – it’s important to me to know that I haven’t contributed a single penny to their corrupt profits.

    As for Fonda – what a nasty, vicious piece of work he is.

    Like

  4. Pointman says:

    Another business suicidal move.

    Founder Of Movement For Disillusioned Democrats Refused Service At New York Electronics Store

    https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-07-07/founder-movement-disillusioned-democrats-refused-service-new-york-electronics-store

    Pointman

    Like

  5. hoppers says:

    Just so you know Pointman, I wasn’t taking the mick. That story was completely true, and posted as a juxstaposition to your story…One son wanted to learn from his Father, while another totally rejected his Fathers profession. My Dad was awesome, but I wanted nothing to do with what he did. – That was the point of my posting.

    Unlike “It wouldn’t happen to a vet” unicorn and roses stuff, being a country vet is brutal. My Dad got brucellosis from all that cow arm action, like most other country vets. I got flattened by an enormous sow giving birth and gored a few times, so I wanted nothing to do with it. I can’t remember one Christmas lunch that he ever completed without the emergency telephone ringing, and him leaving. However I did get to see a lot of baby animals, which was nice.

    Like

  6. Simon Derricutt says:

    My dad taught us to fix things up, too. It was a necessity, really, since we couldn’t afford to pay others to do the repairs. Wood offcuts were available from the railway works my dad worked at (and I worked there as vacation jobs as well) so various bookshelves and cupboards were hand-made to fit the spaces available. Apart from fixing the car, he also repaired the wiring, plumbing, re-pointed the house, glazing when we’d made a (rare) mistake with a ball, though he drew the line on getting up on the roof and repairing it. Later on, I saved a lot of money doing all those things and added in electronics and computers as well. My daughter seems to leave a trail of fixed things behind here when she visits friends, too – those attitudes get passed on. It’s still surprising though how many people just use things and don’t know how they actually work. There’s maybe a bit too much emphasis on academic subjects and not enough on the practical skills that *someone* needs to have in order to keep things working.

    Still, he didn’t teach me business and I doubt if I’d have made a lot of money that way – too centred on getting the job right and not enough on making a profit. The skill in getting a result on a shoestring has been useful, though.

    I can see the point of not pissing-off half your customer-base by bringing politics (or religion or other divisive issues) into it. Could be more than half, though – if I heard of a business that spat in a customer’s coffee or food because they didn’t like the customer’s politics, sexuality, religion etc., I wouldn’t go to that business anyway. Those boycotts aren’t temporary, either. Once you know that someone has lied to you, or shown lack of honesty or normal respect, it won’t be forgotten.

    Looking at Mrs May’s proposal for Brexit, it looks like a total submission to the EU. Next election is going to be interesting, given that there isn’t really a party that wouldn’t be worse. This isn’t that much off-topic, since it’s again a matter of promises made and promises (not) kept, and breaking faith with half the voters.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: