Having written an article about Taking Action on Great Advice, I had the pleasure of a follow-up conversation with Stephen Barnes, CEO of Hong Kong Visa Geeza. In addition to making millions by incorporating much of Seth Godin's philosophies, Stephen shared some incredible insights from Warren Buffet's partner, Charles Munger.
Internally, Stephen Barnes has a very simply cultural philosophy that he's adopted from his Charles Munger experiences: "Do anything you want as long as you follow the Golden Rule". That is. Extremely powerful and ridiculously simple. Sure there are core values that speak to:
But ultimately there's one simply philosophy that reighs supreme and that's the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you'd like done to you. The profound insight that Stephen Barnes had when researching the secrets of billionaire Charles Munger is that this is precisely what Charles Munger has established inside every company he's ever founded or run. It's so simple and yet so few companies actually do it.
Why Few Companies Apply the Golden Rule
In a search for ever increasing profits, the Golden Rule is typically (systematically?) rooted out. This is because additional profits can be gained at the expense of other people. That's a fact. However, what most companies struggle to realize is that these short-term gains are equally short-lived. This is the typical quarter-by-quarter race to the bottom. In an effort to maximize short-term profits, long-term investments are sacrificed--including how customers, partners, vendors, suppliers and everyone else outside your company is being treated.
Applying the Golden Rule takes courage and a long-term view of the business. Case in point. Stephen had a customer who, though no fault of his company, was unable to receive the Visa they had ordered. Most companies would have pointed to the issue outside of the company's control, apologized and moved on. But not Stephen. He applied the Golden Rule and not only gave the customer all their money back, but doubled the amount that was returned to them. Talk about surprise and delight!
What happened next is what most companies don't fully appreciate. Stephen created a raving fan (even though he was unable to secure the Visa) and this previously upset customer referred several new clients to Stephen. All in all, Stephen ended up making more money than he would have with this single irate customer based on applying the Golden Rule--and then some.
Talking the Talk vs. Walking the Walk
It's extremely easy to talk a good game when it comes to your corporate culture. "We stand for [X]" or "We believe in [Y]" only matters when it is held up to a test that is not (immediately) profitable for the company. Only when words become action, is a corporate culture truly adopted. And the true test of your corporate culture is when you face a difficult decision that is (at least initially) unprofitable. Do you follow the course set by your corporate culture, or allow an immediate profit determine the action? Far too often, we choose the short-term profitability path and that leads to stunted growth.
When you take the more difficult course of action that runs counter to immediate profitability (but aligns with your corporate culture), then you are demonstrating to everyone in your company that you not only believe in your company's values, but you're willing to go to great lengths to hold them up and honor them. This is the path to growth even if it includes a short-term profitability hit.
People want to do business with other people who have clear honor and integrity. This is why the Golden Rule reigns supreme--it requires that you take the perspective of the person you are working with and ensures you see every situation from their perspective. If you can honestly say that you would be happy with the outcome if you were on the receiving line of the action, then you are doing unto others as you would like to have done to you.
Charles Munger has a net worth of $1.3 billion at age 91, so I'd say that his strategy of following the Golden Rule has paid off throughout his lifetime.