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ETHICS

Why I'd Do Business With Dennis Rodman

Think twice before you diss what the flashy basketball player is doing in North Korea.
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Was Dennis Rodman really so wrong to go to North Korea, play in a basketball game and sing "happy birthday" to the nation’s leader Kim Jong-un? Many feel that he shouldn't have given Jong-un, widely believed to be a despot and denier of human rights, any courtesy. Still, a few others admire Rodman's desire to spread international goodwill through basketball or at the very least for his public-relations savvy. You decide.

And while you're at it, here are a few other things to consider. Should the U.S. be negotiating a nuclear arms treaty with Iran, given the country's long history of hatred toward us, past misrepresentations and its stated public desire to destroy Israel's right to exist? For that matter, should we be doing business with Russian President Vladimir Putin who has actively and mischievously supported our opponents in Syria and Iran and who seems to enjoy meddling in international affairs that are often detrimental to the West? Some people believe we should have nothing to do with the likes of Iran, Russia or other countries that allegedly violate human rights or threaten world stability. Still others feel that the only way to keep peace and ensure our own mutual welfare is by engaging with them. America has a long history of doing business with less than desirable people.

Now, what about you? What about your business? Assuming that it were legal to do so, would you sell your products to the government of North Korea? Would you do business with Russian or Iranian companies? Our government does. Our largest companies do. Let's take it down a notch. Would you do business with someone who is racist? Would you sell your products to another company that is owned by Muslims? Or Jews? Or Catholics? Or, God forbid, Mets fans? Would you do business with a Libertarian or a Republican or a Democrat or someone that holds vastly different political views than you?

You do, don't you. You've heard that guy say some pretty ugly, insensitive things about the new family from Africa who moved into your neighborhood last month, but you're still taking his cash when he comes to your register to pay. You've provided services for that ultra-right wing guy who supports the right to bear arms, denies global warming and wants to outlaw abortion which are all things you're violently opposed to. You pay for your Eagles tickets and enjoy watching Michael Vick play even though you're an avid dog lover. You do business with all sorts of people. You're no saint. Neither am I.

Why? Because it's not just about your business. It's about the people who rely on your business. It's about the people you employ. Your partners. Your customers. Your suppliers. Your family members. It's about the income, livelihood and security that your business provides to these people. You can certainly choose who you do business with. You can draw the line and refuse to provide services to anyone who has different political or ethical beliefs than you. But where do you draw that line? How bad is bad? Is a registered sex offender who served his time in jail and is now known to be living nearby you someone that you would refuse to sell your products to?

Maybe you're the racist. Maybe you're the former sex offender. Maybe you're the right wing "nut" or the "liberal commie." Maybe people aren't doing business with you because of your beliefs or things you have said or done. Maybe everyone doesn't think that you're so right. Everyone's got their point of view. Everyone has opinions. Which is why, as a business owner, you should consider these two rules of play.

1. Have only a few principles, but stick to them. My dad told me this years ago, and it works. It works because it makes your business life less complicated. Don't be so judgmental. Be more open and understanding to other people's points of view. It's fine to draw the line somewhere. But try to keep that bar as low as you can possible keep it. People have a right to their opinions, their beliefs and how they live their lives. That same guy who's a criminal for smoking pot in Pennsylvania is a valued customer to that marijuana store in Denver. The fewer rules you have the easier it will be to do business with others.

2. Keep your personal opinions out of your business. I know, you're a good Catholic and you believe that Jesus died for our sins. Or you're a devout Jew who doesn't do work on the Sabbath. You're a vegan. You're an environmentalist. We've all got our beliefs and our passions. But that doesn't mean you have to advertise them in your business. Your customers don't want to know this. They just want to buy your stuff. Some may be more inclined to buy from you if they share the same beliefs as you. But others may not. From a business perspective, it's best to not to test out the theory. Whenever senior executives, like Dan Cathy from Chick-fil-A or Donald Trump or Jeffrey Immelt from General Electric get too opinionated, it never turns out well for their companies. That's why you'll find that most big-time CEOs keep their opinions and beliefs outside of the companies they run. There's personal. And there's business.

Dennis Rodman is despicable. He's stupid. He's sensitive. He's passionate. He's caring. He's a publicity hound. He's a great basketball player. He's mediocre, at best. See? Everyone's got their opinions. You can have yours. Just don't let it affect your business.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jan 14, 2014

GENE MARKS | Columnist | Owner, Marks Group

Gene Marks is a columnist, author, and small-business owner. He oversees the Marks Group, a 10-person technology consultancy to small and medium-size businesses. A certified public accountant, Marks has also worked in the entrepreneurial services arm of KPMG. He writes for The New York Times, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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