Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Many years ago, there was a famous general who was known as a cunning strategist. At the end of one conflict, he stopped with a small battalion of soldiers to rest. One of his enemies heard of his refuge and marched his entire army toward the general’s encampment.

The general’s aide woke him up in the middle of the night and warned him that the enemy was close and would be there before dawn. The general knew his tiny band of soldiers would be no match for the army, so he ordered his men to open the gates and hide. Then he donned a cloak and started playing a mandolin as the enemy army approached.

The enemy leader ordered his forces to halt. He knew the general’s reputation for wily deeds and deadly traps. Unwilling to take a risk, the leader ordered his forces to retreat.

Such is the power of a good reputation.

My father Jack always used to tell me, “You spend your whole lifetime building a good name and reputation, and one foolish act can destroy it.”

I took his words to heart, and aside from building long-term relationships, there is nothing more important than a good reputation in building a successful business. If you don’t have a positive reputation, it is virtually impossible to be successful.

Reputation is one of the few assets that your competition cannot undersell or destroy. You can’t put a price on a good reputation.

Reputation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. But if you do the right thing consistently, you will build a great reputation. Reputation is never completely secured – it is being continually earned.

A good reputation depends on many factors: quality products, honesty and fairness in dealing with customers and employees, following through, keeping your promises, not cutting corners, and never ever sacrificing your integrity. No amount of profit is worth risking a bad reputation.

There are many people who were at the top of their game when they made one fatal mistake – due to poor judgment, arrogance or the inability to do the right thing. Reputations are destroyed, and all the money in the world can’t buy them back.

And then you are faced with the really difficult task of repairing the damage. Regaining trust requires rebuilding all the bridges you burned. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, except a whole lot harder. People are reluctant to trust an organization that took advantage of them.

Why gamble with your future? Is it worth risking your business, your friendships, and your good name over one selfish decision?

As one of the most successful businesspeople in the world, Warren Buffett, said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Think about who you do business with and why. As the old saying goes, would you buy a used car from that guy?

I was fascinated by a study where pollsters asked more than 16,000 people to pick the companies and brands they felt had the best reputations. Can you imagine the goodwill from making the list of the top seven – Patagonia, Costco, John Deere, Trader Joe’s, Chick-fil-A, Toyota Motor Corporation and Samsung.

Those are major players. But smaller operations must work just as hard to maintain their place in the public eye. It doesn’t matter if you are the only grocery store in town, or the only plumber, or the only law firm – if people have no other local choice – how you perform and how you treat your clientele will determine whether you will be in business tomorrow.

Word of mouth is not just from person to person. In the era of the internet, online reputation is everything. Your Google results shape widespread opinion of your company and brand. For example, 95% of customers browse online reviews before making a purchase, 50% of consumers will question a brand’s competency if they have negative reviews, and 69% of job seekers won’t take a job with a company that has a bad reputation. If those statistics don’t concern you, read them again.

Considering all you have to lose, is it worth taking a chance that no one will notice if you let your guard down just this once? The example you set resonates throughout your organization. If you want people to follow the leader, act like one.

Mackay’s Moral: Sometimes it takes only an hour to get a reputation that lasts for a thousand years.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.