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  February 3, 2012
An Old Tale for a New World...


"Character is doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking" ~ Anonymous

I recently took my car to the dealer to have a few minor problems evaluated. When I arrived at the service department, I was greeted by a service specialist who wanted to know if I had an appointment. I explained that I didn’t have an appointment but there were a few items that needed some attention before the car’s warranty expired at 50,000 miles. He explained to me that they were extremely busy that day and hoped that I could schedule an appointment for next week.

Trying to help the service tech with his scheduling difficulties, I agreed to wait until the following week to have my car examined.

When I arrived at the dealership the following week, I went through the three or four areas of concerns with the technician. He explained to me that these were very common warranty repairs and that they could get them repaired that same day. We went back into the office so he could get some information from me and enter the service order into their system.

This is when he discovered that my car’s warranty was 50,000 miles or 4 years whichever came first. As it so happens, the 4-year period had elapsed 3 days ago and that the car’s warranty was no longer in effect.

I tried to reason with him and explain that I had actually brought my car in last week but out of deference to their scheduling issues, I waited until this week. He was understanding but unsympathetic to my plight.

Rules are rules...and your car is simply beyond the warranty period.

I asked to speak with the service manager and after a brief conversation, I was told that there was nothing that could be done. The warranty period was very specific...4 years or 50,000 miles whichever came first. It was my sole responsibility to make sure my car was there before the 4 years expired. Regardless of the situation, those were the rules.

An Old Tale:

There was once a poor family in the hills of ancient Greece who had saved their money for years to buy a mule to help plow the fields of their family farm. When they had saved 100 Drachma (the cost of a good mule), they sent their oldest son, Christos, into the town to buy the animal from the local mule trader.

When he got to town, Christos met with the mule trader who told the young man to give him the money and return the following day to collect the mule.

The following day, Christos went to see the mule trader. The two of them walked into the stable to get the mule...when they arrived at the stall they found the mule...dead!

The mule trader was mortified. Young Christos simply asked the mule trader to give him another mule but the mule trader explained that he had no more mules and on top of that he had invested all the money in a new business venture so he had no money to refund to the boy.

The mule trader promised to refund the family’s money but it might takes a few days or even several months for him to raise the cash.

"Ask anyone", the mule trader pleaded, "my word is my promise".

Christos finally agreed not to call in the authorities.  He furthermore told the mule trader that he wanted to keep the dead mule in addition to the forthcoming refund.  The mule trader agreed.

After about a week, some good fortune came to the mule trader and he was able to raise enough money to pay back the poor family.

He traveled to their farm and refunded all of the money to the family. As the mule trader was leaving, he met up with Christos in the front yard and inquired about the status of the dead mule.

Christos replied, "I used the dead mule to make 998 Drachmas".

The mule trader was astonished. "How is it that you were able to profit from a dead mule?"

"Well...I decided to hold a raffle with the prize being the mule...I sold 500 tickets at 2 Drachmas each", said Christos.

"Wasn’t everyone upset when they found out that the mule was dead?", asked the mule trader.

The boy responded, "The only person who was upset was the winner...so I gave him his 2 Drachmas back".

...This story has been retold in many different forms for centuries.

The moral of the story might be seen by some as a person who created fortune out of misfortune (i.e. making lemonade out of lemons). However I tend to see it a bit differently.

Personally, I see the boy as a swindler...a con man...a person who justifies his misdeeds by rationalizing that no one really got hurt because technically they didn’t actually win the raffle. He is a shyster who lives by technicalities rather than by integrity.

This is the exact same mentality that prevails in Washington and in lower Manhattan today. These are the people who profited handsomely from recent economic bubbles, helped to create the great recession, and then went looking for bail-outs. They will argue that they really didn’t do anything wrong and they technically operated within the letter of the law.

Is it any wonder then as to why we have such disdain and distrust for Washington and Wall St.?  They have broken the trust and have become all self-serving.  They are our trusted financial and political leaders but have continued to enrich themselves at the expense of others rather than providing for the common good.

There was a time when business was conducted with a handshake. ..a time when a person’s word meant more than a piece of paper.  There was integrity behind a promise and integrity was the measure of a person and/or a company.

As I’ve grown older, I have come to believe that success isn’t measured in terms of dollars and cents...it’s about helping others...being true to your word...and adding to society...being a part of our community.

Some people have created great wealth for themselves, but they have ultimately used that wealth for the betterment of our shared world whereas others have amassed great wealth at the expense of others.

The true hero of our story is not the boy but rather the mule trader who could have pointed to the fine print and wash his hands of any personal liability...but he chose to take responsibility and return the family’s money...ultimately absorbing the loss himself.

The mule trader was a man of character...a business person of integrity...

...a person who did the right thing even when no one is looking...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we always choose integrity over profits.

Jim Kalb

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