“Greg, I am an honest man, but business is business”

I have been in business a long time. And all of that time has been in the rough and tumble world of recruitment and staffing. Having worked as a recruiter, manager, and owner of recruitment businesses all over the world, I have seen my share of dubious business practices. Indeed I have, sadly, been witness to many instances of outrageously deceitful and unethical behavior. We have all seen it no doubt.

In business, as in life generally, we expect to confront people who are dishonest. We know they are there, and we become better at identifying them before too much harm is done. But what really gets me is that category of person in business who preaches ethical behavior, even believes they are whiter than white, but when put to the mildest of tests, will collapse in a heap of moral compromise at best, and resort to outright duplicity at worst.

In a strange way I have even come to prefer dealing with crooks who know they are crooks, rather then those people who believe there are degrees of honesty. People who somehow feel you can leverage acting decently against the amount of money involved. You cannot. Honesty is like being a virgin. You are, or you are not. You can’t be a virgin when it suits you.

I remember a conversation with a manager a long time ago that sticks with me as an example. I had recently taken over a business, and inherited some of the middle-management. The situation was that we had billed a client a large fee. The placement was made in Asia and the fee was in Singapore dollars. The client, based in the US, paid the invoice with US dollars, a value that was almost double the original, correct amount. I asked the manager of the office handling the deal “what do you propose to do”? The reply was along the lines of, “well normally I would tell the client about the error, but this is a large fee and we are having a poor month in my office, so I feel we should let it slide”. Of course I quickly smothered that idea, but I knew I had a serious problem. What is the mindset of a person who will effectively steal from our clients? What is the moral fortitude of someone who will compromise any standard of honesty “because they are having a poor month”.

In recent years I have seen so many examples of this “rubber-band morality”. Clients, candidates and others closer to home, have managed to surprise even me with how tenuous is their grasp of what is right, and what is wrong. Yes, times are tough and money is tight. But what we have to understand is that it’s in exactly these circumstances that honesty and moral strength counts. Anyone can be ‘ethical’ if there is no temptation to test your ethical fibre. It’s very easy to see yourself as ‘honest’ if there is nothing financial at stake to give you pause for thought.

I love the competitive nature of the recruitment business. Anyone I have worked with or against will attest that I ask nor give any quarter in the commercial battle. Winning is important. Success is what we strive for.

But not at any cost.

To me its obvious that in business, or indeed any commercial interaction, you play it as hard as you can, but stick by the rules, retain your humanity and ensure that you will always be able to look every person you deal with in the eye.

Don’t be like a client who said to me once, as he lied his way out of paying a bill , “Greg, I am an honest man, but business is business”

Sad and pathetic

About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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20 Responses to “Greg, I am an honest man, but business is business”

  1. Jayne Johnson January 4, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    Excellent post .. I love recruitment (a career spanning 25 years) .. when I finally go to the big office in the sky I want to be known as being honest .. not as being rich!

  2. Nicki Kite January 5, 2010 at 7:50 am #

    Our company has just had a perfect example of how honesty pays in Recruitment.
    We realised recently that a Client, who hadn’t used our services for some time, had a credit in our system resulting from them double paying an invoice some time ago. We brought it to their attention at the time, however they subsequently had a change of management. and it had been overlooked. We contacted the Company and reminded them. They were VERY impressed, thanked us for our honesty and ordered some casual staff. Guess what? They have used up the credit and are still ordering more staff!

  3. Miss keep it clean! January 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    I think it is a bit like class either you have it or you don’t!! I think you could have found a better and more appropriate analogy Gregory!

  4. Nick Price January 6, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    Excellent post. Last year I saw a lot of examples – and been on the receiving end – of what you describe as ‘rubber band mentality’. Those who can retain their integrity and moral fibre in business will always be people I want to work with, but i think the testing times of last year possibly forced some to reveal their true colours.

  5. Lee Burman January 6, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    Top blog Greg, well said. You’re so right, the competitive nature of the recruitment business is what makes us tick but it doesn’t mean that you have to use underhand tactics to be successful. Hopefully the bad ‘uns have been outed in the last year. Lee

  6. Cindy Carson January 7, 2010 at 6:10 am #

    Indeed! Integrity is tough to come by. Only 15% of businesses here in Maryland (USA)qualify to be Better Business Bureau accredited. It is our hope to foster a larger community of ethical and integrity based businesses. I guess it doesn’t matter what part of the world you are in – it’s always a challenge. I have to say I laughed out loud at the reply from Miss Keep It Clean. She has a point but then again, the blog is called “savage truth” for a reason. After a long day of calls and research it was a welcome laugh. Good post.

  7. SpruikerSlayer May 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Try working in stockbroking and ‘wealth education’ for a few months and then tell me what you’ve learned. Let me tell you that that industry is by far the worst I’ve ever come across. Full of liers, cheats and outright predatory deceivers preying on mum and dad investors. Will make your experiences in recruiting look like tea and sconnes stories with the ol’ grandma.

  8. Stephen O'Donnell July 20, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    Temptation comes your way at the unlikeliest times. I once had an exclusive assignment with Honeywell, to recruit 12 new staff members. My initial retainer was agreed at £10,000 (plus VAT), which they paid promptly. They then paid it again the following week – so the money was actually in my account. In that kind of circumstance, it is vital to be scrupulous, so I reported the error to them, and claimed all the brownie points for doing so.
    It was later explained to me, that nature of the accounting error meant that it would never have been uncovered, without our honesty.
    The brownie points were well worth it.

  9. Marianne Curphey July 20, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    Spot on. Or as Warren Buffet famously said: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” When everyone is enjoying good times, you don’t know who has taken on excessive risks, or compromised to stay in business.

  10. Kunal July 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    How can the USDollars payment be double of SGDollars? 🙂
    The USD was never double of SGD (not in the last 5 years, at least – http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=USD&to=SGD&view=5Y)

    • Greg Savage July 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

      Seriously Kunal? This is what you took from my story? An exchange rate calculation?
      But seeing as you have asked, this event happened in 2002. The exchange rate in that year reached 1.85 Singapore dollars to 1 USD. (January I believe)
      My blog states (and I was writing it 10 years after the event) “The client, based in the US, paid the invoice with US dollars, a value that was almost double the original”
      Accurate enough don’t you think?


  11. Kunal July 18, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    Haha, touché. And that’s why I had added the smiley as my pre-emptive bail
    And btw, thanks for sharing the opinion, though I’m notin HR, but my wife is, so I can relate to what you’re voicing here
    And according to her “big companies and big careers are based on values”

    • Greg Savage July 18, 2012 at 8:07 am #

      Good on you Kunal
      “big companies and big careers are based on values”
      Like that a lot

  12. Andrew Thorn November 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    Hi Greg – I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately too. I appreciate your thoughts and wanted to share something I recently wrote as I think it adds to the conversation. I see integrity as being in constant development. In other words, I think we learn to have integrity by and through our acts of not having integrity. Nobody does the right thing all the time – but what we learn from those experiences teaches us great lessons.


    I hope you enjoy these thoughts.

    Life is Good! – Andrew Thorn – PhD – andrew@andrewthorn.com

  13. Harris Keillar January 10, 2013 at 3:37 am #

    Wish I’d seen this string when it started 3 years ago. Had to sack my top producer in early 2010 for being discriminatory and which the Employment Tribunal judge eventually described as ‘disgraceful behaviour’. He dragged my small company through the tribunal process despite knowing my dad was dying, and stating in writing that it would not cost him anything though would cost us thousands! His defence- ‘only doing it for the fee and no-one knew about it as it was kept internal’!! Unfortunately he is still in recruitment , though I feel vindicated for doing the right thing, despite the financial and emotional costs. Integrity is not elastic.

  14. Sandra Benskin September 21, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

    Great post Greg. In the words of the great Martin Luther King Jr. “The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.”

  15. Balraj Kaur January 7, 2016 at 6:16 pm #

    Right Greg! Strong monuments are constructed on solid foundations.


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