Thanks to RE/MAX broker Stuart Thomas for bringing to our attention the timely book, Winners Never Cheat, by Jon M. Huntsman (Wharton School Publishing, 224 pages). Reading it could prove to be a valuable and meaningful experience for agents and brokers alike. Winners Never Cheat was first published in 2005 and carried the subtitle "Everyday Values that We Learned as Children (but may have forgotten)." Today, the current, revised edition specifies "Even in Difficult Times."
The author points out that, in difficult financial times, certain things may go out of style. One of them is attention to values and integrity. "As I write these lines in the fall of 2008," he observes, "ethical corner-cutting has risen faster than the price of a gallon of gas." A financial downturn "presents new temptations to bend rules, to hoard material possessions, and to dismiss decency as being so last year. Born of anger, fear, stress, and frustration, the temptation to cut a corner is strong and persuasive."
The other behavior that goes out of style when times are tough is the inclination to give and to share from what we have. "The twin tragedy is that generosity becomes expendable in times of contraction. The basic urge to share, instilled in us from youth, is dulled by the self-centered instinct to survive. Is anyone surprised that charitable donations decreased in the second half of 2007 and have tanked in 2008?" Huntsman argues forcefully that, like honest and forthright action, giving - generous giving - is not a good-times-only option.
Jon Huntsman was the founder and chairman of a family business that began in 1970 and by the year 2000 had become the world’s largest privately held chemical company and America’s largest family owned and operated business. When the business went public in 2005 it had more than $12 billion in annual revenues. To be sure, there are some who will read that history and say something like "Of course he can lecture about ethics and generosity. He can afford it. But what does his situation have to do with someone like me, struggling to pay the rent and just trying to keep afloat?" We all need to remember that the road to the top is, after all, uphill. For most successful people, it has had bumps and twists and turns that easily could have ended the journey. Huntsman’s admonitions to maintain integrity and live by your values do not come from an academic ivory tower. He has faced bankruptcy, had deals go sour, and lost significant dollars at times because his word was his bond. It is through adversity, he writes, that "we come face to face with who we really are and what really counts."
"Giving is my favorite topic," Huntsman writes, and his discussion of giving is both refreshing and insightful. It is a welcome tonic at a time when a lot of people may be feeling pretty sour.
"Philanthropy ought to be the preeminent ingredient in everyone’s recipe for material gain. No matter what the field, no star of any success story is a totally self-made man or woman. Along the way, all of us received help from others; most of us also were the beneficiaries of lucky breaks. We all owe a portion of our success to others, incurring a debt in the process, and the only way to repay that assistance is by sharing your good fortune."
Huntsman grounds his thinking about giving in the idea that it is our obligation to do so, a debt we need to repay. That is all well and good, but the startling and charming aspect of his discussion resides in his conviction that giving yields such great benefits to both companies and individuals. "The more one gives, the better one feels; and the better one feels about it, the easier it becomes to give. It is a wonderfully warm, slippery slope. If you require a less-altruistic reason to give, try this: Philanthropy is plain good business. It energizes a company."
There are many, many real estate companies who support various charities and who encourage their associates to give generously. To give just one example, to say that ‘philanthropy energizes a company’ would be an understatement when applied to the role that charitable giving plays in the Keller Williams franchise system. (Full disclosure: I am a Keller Williams broker.) And Keller Williams does not stand alone in this regard. I have seen companies where a Toys for Tots collection or a food drive for local shelters engendered more enthusiasm and company camaraderie than ever did any sales meeting or awards banquet.
Put simply, Huntsman clearly conveys the little-recognized fact that giving is fun! It’s fun even when you may have to stretch to do it. Indeed, especially when you have to stretch.
On Jon Huntsman’s wall hangs a quotation that reads, "No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down and lifting another up."
A few weeks ago it was nice to hear that the recession has been over for more than a year. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite ring true for a lot of people. For many in the real estate business, times are still difficult. More than a few are working twice as hard to make half as much. Competition is tough; there are bills to pay; and the future is unclear. All of this can be hard on the heart. So what to do about it? Take Jon Huntsman’s advice: exercise that heart.