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The Greed Gene: How Excessive Greed Can Bleed Your Business and Ruin Your Life

Dec 11, 2007
The Buddhists believe that greed is the primary obstacle to enlightenment. I've come to the conclusion there is a greed gene. There simply can be no other explanation. Greed is the evolutionary consequence of the 'hoarding instinct'; a dynamic in the social evolution of greedy humans. In the very old days those that hoarded for the winter did not starve as readily as those that did not. This hoarding instinct is a species trait even though most of us don't face daily starvation.

My friend Jerry was smart and very ambitious. I had known him through work at another company and Jerry asked me if I could take a look at his start up venture. A quick assessment showed that the business model was OK but as usual the devil is in the details of execution. And all the finer points that go with it.

After our initial meeting Jerry pointed to his array of cubicles and said this was his future fortune. He wanted to build a 12 story 20,000 square foot house with the middle stories used as a showroom for all his vintage cars; sort of a Jay Leno copycat.

To launch this, he was using his own start up money and was pursuing venture capital. This is a common strategy but Jerry thought his model was so good he could do an end run and not abide by all the usual and customary venture capital rules. What intrigued Jerry the most was he could raise and use someone else's capital to drive his own company. Or at least that was how Jerry saw it.

Jerry showed me his proposal through a venture capital broker and it turned out the guy really wasn't a broker per se. He was a scam artist and a lot like greedy Jerry. Jerry got his initial investors to pony up more cash to funnel to the broker who kept stringing Jerry along.

'Funding and riches are right around the corner' the broker would always say. Right. Greedy Jerry wanted to believe it so much that he ended up convincing himself. But it didn't happen.

At some point the smoke screen finally blew away and the ugly truth was seen in the raw. Jerry had exploited his employees and cut costs wherever he could so he could stretch the cash flow out until the injection of the first round venture capital funding his broker promised would soon be in the bank. It never came.

Three months after I had seen Jerry he called to tell me the gig was up. He had lost everything and was going through a painful bankruptcy. He didn't say if his cutesy wife was part of that too and I didn't ask.

Patricia was a hardworking business woman that had built a successful company with her ex-husband whom I had gotten to know while working on a start up project. As part of the divorce settlement, she got one of the companies. Patricia asked me to look at her books and do some projections for a rapid expansion into six southwestern states.

At first I thought it might be her resentment of her ex's new flame; a 'hottie' in today's vernacular. But later I determined that Patricia's problem wasn't so much emotional baggage from a failed marriage but a matter of her own uncontrolled greed. This greed obviously had contributed to the break up of her marriage.

Patricia is one of those people that feel they never actually get what they truly deserve. They are always coming up on the short end of the stick. Justice was needed and business was the great equalizer. And the fastest way to get something was to take it. And for Patricia, the easiest and fastest place to take it from was her own company.

As I got to working on the growth strategy I came to realize that growth would be impossible. There were big problems in the Riverside and San Diego offices and the regional manager in Sacramento just walked off the job one night. All fingers were pointing to Patricia.

When I brought this to her attention she asked me to sit down and she started going over all the ways her ex screwed her over and how she had to make the necessary adjustments. Some of this involved a remake of her and the company's image and that is why she bought the Lexus instead of paying the payroll taxes.

She then admitted she was a bit overdrawn and had gone through the entire credit line. Would I please help her and go to San Diego and Sacramento and talk to the creditors? She had no money but would give me a nice share of the company in due time. Maybe two percent over a ten year period. Two percent of what? I respectfully declined.

I lost track of Patricia. Jerry called me several months later and wanted to sell me some sort of MLM utility bill plan. What is odd is that both Patricia and Jerry were very bright and had a lot of skills and capabilities. They had a vision and the drive.

But like the tight fisted stock they carried down with the ship, their dreams sputtered before having a chance to develop. Their greed doomed them from the start. From miscalculating employee loyalty to over optimistic projections it was one white lie after another as they continually convinced themselves all was well. In retrospect it wasn't any one of the little lies that did them in; it was the accumulation.

A lesson for us all in there somewhere, no?
About the Author
Jack D. Deal is the owner of Deal Business Consulting. He can be contacted at jddeal@jddeal.com Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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