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When to leave something on the table

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Not only do real leaders never cheat, but they never take unfair advantage.

That may raise eyebrows in an environment where businesspeople press for every advantage, but petrochemical tycoon Jon Huntsman says that, after negotiating a deal, both sides need to feel like winners ... so they’ll come back and do business together again.

Case in point: Huntsman engaged in fierce negotiating with Charles Miller Smith, who headed Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) of Great Britain at the time. Huntsman wanted to buy some of the firm’s chemical divisions, which would double the size of Huntsman Corp. A good outcome to the complex and pressured talks would both cut ICI’s debt and preserve Huntsman’s limited capital.

As their long negotiations wound down, Smith grew increasingly distracted because his wife was grappling with cancer. When she died, he became distraught.

The deal hung in limbo. Then, Huntsman decided he wasn’t going to haggle over the last 20 percent.

He figures he could have eked out another $200 million, but it would have taken unfair advantage of Smith. In the process, Huntsman made not only a deal but also a friend.

— Adapted from Winners Never Cheat: Everyday Values We Learned as Children (But May Have Forgotten), Jon M. Huntsman, Wharton School Publishing.

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