No. 192



Former President Abraham Lincoln once said, "Character is like a tree and reputation like it's shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing." To be sure, when Abraham Lincoln, who I think was our nation's greatest president, spoke these words about character, it was back in the days before what has come to be known as "situational ethics." In other words, just do what do what you think is right, based on the situation at the time.

Now, before I share some thoughts with you that are very personal, I want to confess that I am from the old school. I came from a generation when a man's word was his bond. So consequently I don't think too highly of a person who tells you something in a business deal and then goes back on his word. A few months ago my wife and I decided it was time for her to have a new vehicle. Because she hates to climb up out of a car, she wanted a truck. At this point I began to look around and finally found a late model, low mileage truck at a dealership not far from our home that seemed to be just what we had in mind. When I talked with a young salesman, he gave me the price they would sell it for. A few days later I took my wife's van by this dealership to see what they would give us on a trade.

The amount was so small that we decided to try to sell it ourselves and we did. In the meantime this young salesman told me they had an offer on the truck we were interested in, but there was a chance the potential buyer's credit application may not be approved. This turned out to be true and in a day or so he called to see if we were still interested. Since this would be a cash sale, I told him exactly what I would give for his truck and he said that he needed to talk with the sales manager and he would call me back.

In a few minutes the phone rang and he stated that they would accept my offer and for us to come on down. Now, here is the rest of the story and the purpose of my column. When we walked up to the front door the young salesman met us with these words, "I hope you are not going to be mad at me." The sales manager was standing there with him and he proceeded to tell us they were losing money and there was no way they could sell us the truck for the amount they had agreed to over the phone.

Since we were already emotionally involved at this point, I asked, "what will it take to buy it?" He then gave me a price of $200 more than they said they would take. I countered with a $100 more and the sales manager said, "sell him the truck!" My point is this: all of that for a measly $100! I would have given what they had originally asked, if they had told me the truth over the phone before we went there.

While we have no way of knowing if the young salesman was in on the deal, the sad thing for him is that he was standing there and heard what transpired and he knows what kind of people he is working for. His subconscious mind recorded every word and over time, this will have a tremendous impact on his self-esteem. Let me hasten to add, this is not a put down or indictment of all automobile dealerships. Most do have a good reputation that is based on character and integrity.

In summary, our deal will just be a very small speck on the radar screen and certainly will not cause this dealership to fail, but here is what they lost. The well-wishes of a satisfied customer, referrals, the opportunity for repeat business and future service and maintenance on the truck. All for a $100. Please understand, I'm not mad or bitter because I still have the same positive attitude I had before this transpired. There are consequences for our actions and behavior and we should not reward people who have little or no character. (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)