Cut-Throat World

Colin is a trained chef. He built a small but flourishing business cooking gourmet, restaurant-quality food and delivering locally to people hosting dinner parties, people trying to impress on a dinner date and, more lucratively, to small businesses attempting to dazzle potential new clients.

Colin and his friend and former customer, Andrew, came up with a great idea. They wanted to extend the business to occasionally cater for individuals who had previously enjoyed the finer things in life but were either no longer capable of cooking for themselves or led such busy lives that they had no time for anything other than fast-food. Instead of creating the food centrally and transporting it, they thought it would add to the experience if the cooking were done in the customer’s own kitchen. Andrew agreed to manage and supply these services, and although he was not directly employed by Colin, it was decided that a weekly invoice would be issued by Andrew to Colin for the services he provided. Andrew’s hourly charge was little more than ‘minimum wage’ even though Colin invoiced the customers at a much higher rate. There was no written contract; it was an arrangement that was understood by them both.

Colin found the first few customers; the word spread around the neighbourhood and beyond, this arm of the business thrived. More customers came along, and Andrew somehow found the time to satisfy them all, often at short notice and regularly over weekends. He did a great job; the customers loved him, partly due to the superb quality of his cuisine and partly for the experience, trust and companionship he provided. Keys to the customer’s properties were offered without hesitation so that he could perform his tasks when the customer couldn’t be there.

After a few months, the only involvement Colin had in this aspect of his business was to invoice the customers based on the weekly reports he received from Andrew. Customers soon began to communicate with Andrew directly. Knowing his own diary, he was able to manipulate and manage all appointments to satisfy all the customers.

Unfortunately, the workload took its toll. Andrew had absorbed an ever-increasing number of customers, and as a result, he worked very long days, spent many hours each week in-transit between customers and found that he had little time for his own family or his own interests. He often skipped lunch, he was permanently tired, and his health deteriorated as his stress and blood pressure levels hit the roof. He had stopped enjoying his job as he felt he was rushing everything and had less time to spend with his customers, many of whom had become good friends.

Andrew decided to take control of his life and terminate his working relationship with Colin. His health had to come first, so he gave notice to Colin who, as you can imagine, was disappointed. How would Colin be able to find another dedicated gourmet chef as talented as Andrew to continue those services and still pay the minimum wage? From Andrew’s perspective, he never lost his love for cooking and was prepared to set up his own business doing the same work but with a fresh set of customers. He would be able to charge the same rates that Colin billed the customers which made it possible to generate similar income by working just over half the number of hours he did for Colin. It also meant he would be able to do the job properly and avoid rushing, particularly with his lonelier customers. Andrew’s family and friends would benefit from this change of plan, and he would generally be much healthier and happier.

Colin decided to contact his old friend, Robert to see if he would be interested in taking over this branch of the business. After a little persuasion and some renegotiation of payable rates, Robert eventually agreed, so Colin sent an email to all his customers to explain that Andrew was no longer working for his company, but they should not worry because he has a perfectly adequate replacement ready to step in and carry out those same services. What happened next surprised everyone. The majority of Colin’s customers contacted Andrew directly to ask if he was still intending to provide gourmet food services. They had grown to love him and trust him; while they had no doubt that Robert would be able to cook similar quality food, many saw the risk involved in rejecting perceived perfection in the hope that the alternative would be just as perfect. As much as he knew it would disappoint Colin and Robert, Andrew decided that the “customer is king” and if they wanted to keep him and Andrew wanted to provide that service, who was he to argue? Of course, some of the original customers were friends of Colin’s, and as much as they enjoyed Andrew providing the services they ordered and were disappointed that Andrew was no longer available, they decided to stay with Colin.

After that, things became a little acrimonious. Colin accused Andrew of poaching half of his customers, Robert was a little upset that the business was not quite as big as he thought when he decided to take it on and Andrew became very upset that his formerly good friendship with Colin had come to a bitter end. The last communication was an unpleasant text message from Colin to Andrew sarcastically ending with the words “Enjoy your new job!”

So, where would your loyalties lie?

Call Andrew

Note, this is a true story, although Colin isn’t Colin, Andrew isn’t Andrew, Robert isn’t Robert, and there was no food involved whatsoever.

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