Fable Friday:  Sully’s business case; you be the judge

In the spring of 1978 I traveled to Philadelphia to compete in the Penn Relays Marathon.  I had a friend named Sully from back home in Cornwall, NY who was working on his Masters at Wharton and he said I could bunk with him.  After an early dinner on Friday night, we went back to his apartment and I went to bed, hoping to get a good night’s sleep.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedBut before I could doze off there was a knock at the door and a friend of Sully’s came in and began asking him questions about some kind of computerized business case.  Sully rattled off a bunch of advice to the guy, along the lines of “Hose all your employees on the salary.  They’ll go on strike but they come back in two days so you save a bundle. And don’t buy any fire insurance.  There’s nothing in the program that allows the business to catch on fire.”  Stuff like that.  The grateful visitor thanked him profusely and left.

I asked Sully what that was all about, and here’s what he told me:

“Last semester I took a business simulation course.  You work in teams of six students running your own business, making financial decisions, business and marketing planning and investments.  I didn’t like the group I got assigned to.  They had no business sense, discussed everything to death and made decisions only by consensus.  We were soon at odds, so I went to the professor and asked to get off the team and be a team of my own.  He agreed, but warned me I would have no other resources but myself.  That was fine with me.

First thing I did was go to the library and research everything I could about the case study. I was sure the professor hadn’t written it himself. Sure enough, buried in the notes was the name of a grad student who I learned was still at Wharton.  So I called him up and asked if he had written the case, which he had. I told him I’d like to learn more about how cases like this are written and we agreed to meet for a beer.

Well, as luck would have it, I hardly had to ask him anything. I just bought the beers, while he shared with me every possible variable within the case.  I had hit pay dirt, and without taking a single note, I simply thanked him for sharing the process with me and left.

Of course I made the most money of anyone in the class on this case sailing through with no strikes, fires or other setbacks. I used the money I saved on expenses for new product development and marketing. I made a fortune.  I was a wizard.”

I smile every time I think of this story, and from time to time I bump into Sully.  He retired long ago from business and now manages properties and his money in the Bahamas.  Good for him!

And now back to you.  Think carefully about this case. I imagine some of you might think what Sully did was unethical or dishonest.  Others might think he was simply smarter than everyone else and achieved a higher level solution.

What do you think?  Did Sully do the right thing? Do you approve or disapprove?  Write to me with your own opinions and I’ll follow up on this topic next week.  I’ll even tell you how I did in the Relays!

Meanwhile, remember to…

Think Like Your Customer!

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

4 Responses to Fable Friday:  Sully’s business case; you be the judge

  1. Carol E. Sparlin says:

    Unethical? Probably. Some will think so and some won’t. More importantly there will always be people like Sully and people like the others on the team who “made decisions only by consensus”. Everyone has to decide who they will align themselves with in life, and I would choose the team versus the selfish individual.

    Carol E. Sparlin

  2. Roberto says:

    Unethical? Certainly. The question (mostly answerable by Sully) is, “Did it matter? Were people harmed? Was Sully harmed?” The answer to that is very probably no.

    Sully was getting through university as best he could. He learned things.

    One, he learned he might not have been a team player (asking to be reassigned from his original team). Two, he learned it’s sometimes possible to do things differently (i.e. by asking his professor for a “reset”). Three (and most valuable for later life and business), he learned it’s valuable to thoroughly research every situation.

    There are other learnings, which I wonder if he absorbed. The most important of which is that his “achievements” were not made on a level playing field. He gamed the system, and his classmates (presumably) did not. Sully might have argued they were not smart enough to, or “they would have if they’d thought of it”; he might have argued that the game was small picture thinking, and his gaming of the game was big picture thinking. Maybe.

    But playing the game that way leads to dangerous thinking. If a part of the game is to consider that there are certain immutable costs to doing business, e.g. implementing fire safety measures and insurance unless you are a Bangladeshi garment factory owner, Sully failed. If one of the game’s objectives is to train young minds to consider solutions within an agreed framework of rules (e.g. insider trading rules), then Sully failed (though I imagine many Wall Street employers would admire his initiative).

    I’m reminded of a story told by Anthony Bourdain in his memoir “Kitchen Confidential”. As a student at the Culinary Institute of America, he smuggled MSG into the dishes he prepared as part of his coursework. Did his dishes taste better than those of the other students, thanks to this flavor enhancer? Of course. Were others harmed? No. [Except any fellow students who may have tastes his dishes and been allergic to MSG!] His offense seems smaller in some ways than Sully’s. Sneaking MSG into a dish is not the same as not buying fire insurance.

  3. Sully says:

    Insider trading is illegal…..what i did was not illegal. In fact, it was great research. I figured out what the actual rules of the game were and played accordingly. This was not a real company with real fires. It was a simulated situation where fire wasnt written into the program. In real life, its a good thing to figure out whats really a potential threat to your business and whats not. The story is mostly true, although 35 years has given it some added color. I actually figured out the lowest wage to pay without a strike by isolating one worker and experimenting with his wage until he quit. From that i fugred out where the masses would strike, and paid a penny above. Everyone else blindly overpaid because the unions periodically issued strike threat, which i also figured out were random and not related to actual wages. Soooooooo……the objective of the class by the way, was to make the most money at your company…..it was a game, i played it well 🙂

  4. Jeff Horton says:

    Sully innately knew a very important thing: Don’t associate with boneheads. And the corrollary: The only person you can truly depend upon is yourself.

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