In Business, As In Life, Character Counts

" is a cynical person who believes that the self interest of profit is best served by deception."

By David P. Kowal, APR

In business, character is as important as competence. Maybe even more so, since competence can be taught. Character cannot.

The business world, of course, has its examples of flawed character. And we should be troubled by such individuals. A dishonest employee, associate or vendor can ruin a business, causing irreparable harm to its reputation as well as its balance sheet. The management of a company’s reputation, which is at the foundation of public relations, begins with reputable people.

None of us is perfect, although, just as we strive for quality in our products and services, we must strive for quality in our character – and we should demand the same of those with whom we do business. “Zero defects” is an unobtainable goal, but that should not prevent us from striving to attain it.

Relationships Built on Trust

The good news is that most people in business are honest. Hollywood characterizations to the contrary, every day I encounter business people who take pride in their work, who serve on boards and otherwise contribute to their community, and who recognize that long-term business relationships are built on trust and reliability, not on deception.

During the years that Kowal Communications has been in business, I’ve dealt with only a few dishonest people. In each case, I severed the relationship when it became clear that the individuals I was dealing with did not deserve my trust. But I also asked myself what compelled them to act the way they did. Did they think they could get away with it by talking their way out of it? Did they, in some warped way, think that business is business and that dishonesty was acceptable?

Every business is motivated by profit. That is the foundation of capitalism. But it is a cynical person who believes that the self interest of profit is best served by deception. Long-term business relationships must be based on trust and reliability. A business that is always chasing new clients because it has burned its existing clients is not going to be very profitable.

In each case when I’ve encountered an ethically challenged businessperson, dishonesty had both an ethical and a financial cost. A printer lost future business. A client lost both my business and referrals I was making to his business. A freelancer lost what could have been a long-term source of income. In each case, the deceptions I encountered kept me up at night, and I wondered whether they had the same effect on the other party.

Often, when presentations are made to potential new clients, the decision to retain our services depends, at least in part, on intangible qualities that are intuitive and immeasurable. The “chemistry” must be right. The “fit” must be appropriate. I hope, too, that, prominent in this mix of intangible qualities, is a decision about whether or not we can be trusted.

David P. Kowal, APR is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at