Trust is a five-letter word

Trust:  Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

Last summer my brother sold the family business where I’ve worked for 11 years, and where my mom and dad also worked until they retired.  He was burned out from steering this company for 15 years.  Not being a natural schmoozer, he was finding it harder and harder to play the business game.  Not being a natural schmoozer myself, I declined his offer to buy him out.   In spite of his natural reticence and reluctance to put in the face time with customers, my brother was well-liked and much respected as an ethical and fair businessman.  Our employees loved him, and our customers were loyal.   When Mark announced the impending sale of the business last summer, I received the news with a a healthy dose of anxiety and trepidation. 

There is a real sense of security in a family business.  When you work day in and day out with your parents and siblings, and when everyone naturally gets along anyway, you feel nurtured in your job.  We’re all very driven and results-oriented people, so my brother never had to worry about any of us performing poorly.  I worked closely with Mark on the financial side of things until I gained enough experience to handle it all, and he guided me every step of the way.  We had a trust relationship based on lifelong kinship and mutual respect for each other’s intelligence. 

Mark chose his predecessor well, after declining to sell it to one prospective buyer because he didn’t have a good feeling about how that person would be received by the employees.  “The guy I’m selling it to is a good guy.” Mark told me.  “I really think you’ll like him a lot.”  I trusted his judgement.  One day, before I’d even met the new owner, Mark approached me with a request that would be hard to agree to without the trust I already had in him: “I’d like for you to make a blind commitment  and promise me you’ll stay for at least a year after T___ takes over.”   My reply was that I would promise to stay.  I promised to stay because my brother, whose judgement I trusted and whose character I had faith, in had asked me to.   I agreed to transfer my trust into the new owner’s hands sight unseen, work ethic untested, abilities unknown and character unascertained. 

Those first few months were a little shaky for T___ and me, as we circled each other warily and learned each other’s work rhythms; when to joke around and when to be serious, whether or not it was OK to say fuck in front of the other (it is), nad whether or not my droll sense of humor would delight him or cause him to look at me crossways.  Luckily for both us, his sense of humor is even more droll than mine. 

T & I had a meeting with the accountant during that first month, and near the end of the session, Rick – a man who’d been our company’s accountant for years and who I’d met with many times in the past – broached a topic that kind of took me by surprise.  He wanted to talk about the checks and balances that T should employ in our accounting practices, or to put it bluntly, methods to use to make sure I wasn’t stealing the company’s money.  It was then that I realized I wasn’t the only one who was putting their trust – lock, stock and barrel – into an unknown person. 

Not being completely trusted was uncomfortable for me, as it is for everyone.  You always hear about this person or that person who had been arrested for stealing money from their company, and I always wondered how folks like that sleep at night.  How does one look themselves in the mirror, knowing that they’ve broken what most of us would consider to be a sacred trust?  How could a person live day after day with the sickening knowledge that they could be caught doing something so unethical?  I know I’d never do such a thing, but T didn’t know me at all.  I had to earn his trust and this was new to me. 

I am happy to report that things have worked out better than I expected – for both myself and for the company.  I don’t know if T is checking the books like Rick instructed, and I found that it doesn’t really matter to me anymore.  It doesn’t matter because I’ve found him to be a trustworthy person.  It doesn’t matter because I can see, through T’s actions, that he wants the company to be successful as much as Mark did, and perhaps more in some ways.  It doesn’t matter because I know trust is a 2-way street.  I trust his integrity and I’m pretty sure he trusts mine too.  It’s been a long road and my year is almost up.  I can’t say I haven’t contemplated moving on – especially during those first shaky weeks -but I can honestly say I don’t think about that anymore.  I’ ve made my livelihood  here for a good many years, and I’m willing to stay for as long as T is willing to put up with my droll sense of humor, and I, his.   Yes, Mark chose well – as I expected he would – and he’s much happier now being a man of leisure and doing the things that make him supremely content.  

 I’m glad I could trust him.


6 Responses to “Trust is a five-letter word”

  1. 1 Simonne June 26, 2007 at 7:17 am

    Nice one OB. (I can’t imagine anyone not liking your sense of humour!) And how wonderful to have had that amazing working relationship with your family 🙂

  2. 2 observantbystander June 26, 2007 at 8:07 am

    Simonne: Yes, it was nice to work with my family every day and I’m glad it was a positive experience but, on the flip side, I had to work with my family every day. It wears you out after awhile

  3. 3 poseidonsmuse June 26, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Very thoughtful post Observant. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Sometimes “trust” certainly involves that “bite-your-bottom-lip-and-wait” scenario. “Faith” might also be a five-letter word too…

  4. 4 observantbystander June 26, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    PM: Yes, faith has a lot to do with it also. I guess trust that hasn’t yet been earned is given with the faith that all will be well in the end.

  5. 5 Jurgen Nation June 29, 2007 at 11:10 am

    I really enjoyed this post – your voice is flawless and your perspective is really interesting. I don’t have experience with family business (in my family, that is a very good thing), so I read this with interest. I think you detail your thoughts and emotions beautifully and the lesson learned, I think, is one we can all stand to learn. Nicely done!

  6. 6 observantbystander June 29, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    JN: Thanks so much for the kudos. That one kind of flowed effortlessly out of my brain (I love it when that happens!).

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