The Trusted Employee

My father owned an appliance and furniture store.  It was a small business – in the early 80’s it grossed over a million dollars in revenues.  The business benefited from  the economic boom that followed the end of World War II and it rode that sound wave for over 30 years.  He was very proud of his success, even more so because he did not receieve a high school diploma.

My dad had an employee named Tony.  Tony started as a 16 year old office assistant, adding responsibilities over time until  he became what amounted to a controller (a title my dad would never have understood).   Tony recorded sales and expenses, ordered inventory, managed the payroll,  deposited the checks, reconciled bank statements, prepared the financial statements for tax preparation.  My dad loved Tony.  Thought of him as a second son (I, to my dad’s disappointment, was not interested in the business).  Until he discovered that Tony was stealing.   Tony had pocketed thousands of dollars of store revenues over a period of at least 5 years.  How long and how much he couldn’t determine.  Tony, after all, managed the books.

So what’s the point?  My dad treated Tony like one of the family, not as an employee.   Tony was loyal, respectful, hard working, reliable.  Why wouldn’t he have trusted Tony?   But it happened.  And it happens to other small business owners.  After all, small businesses can’t be too choosy about who they hire.  They might be family members or neighbors or people that just happen to show up.  Owners, over time, feel obligated to them.  And this might lead to ignoring sloppy work or worse.  Owners need to treat employees fairly and respectfully.  They need, with the proper number of business controls, to trust their employees to do their jobs.  But, ultimately they are employees, not family or friends.

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