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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lloyd Merritt Smigel


[Business Ethics] How Much is Too Much?

Business Strategy

Have you ever worked for someone who’s greedy? If so, remember the golden rule — and move on. Life’s too short to get caught up in such behavior.

October 21, 2014

Greed is defined as “an overwhelming desire to have more of something (such as money) than is actually needed.”

How much is enough? I once met an owner of a large pest control company who once told me, “The race is on. No matter how much money I earn — my wife will outspend me.” Pretty funny? Or not?

I realize that earning seems to be an unending goal. I get it.

However, It doesn’t seem decent to me when you earn it at the expense of others.

Good vs. Bad Greed.

An owner of a large pest control company once told me one of the things he does each month is to look at his overall payroll and seek out the lowest-paid employee. He then meets with that person (and his or her manager) to discuss ways to increase the technician’s pay.

I asked him why he did that and he told me that by lifting the lowest person he raises everyone’s standards. I think that’s interesting and impressive, don’t you?

I suggested that he might want to consider having each of his managers do that to increase their effectiveness. He did.

Another owner was quite different. When I interviewed one of his office staffers, she told me she hadn’t had a raise in five years. She told me the owner said his profits were down and he couldn’t afford it. She then went on to tell me that he just came back from a trip where he took his entire family to Europe for two weeks and had the audacity to show her pictures.

Look at the difference between those two men. One is trying to lift others and one is keeping others down for his benefit. Both legal, if you want to play that game.

It’s the moral or ethical part of this conduct that I am talking about — based on what somebody’s conscience suggests is right or wrong — rather than on what rules or the law says should be done.

Legal vs. Illegal.

On occasion I have heard horrible stories about how employees were treated unfairly by employers.

  • “I left their company because they never paid me correctly and if I asked to see how they arrived at my commission or pay — they wouldn’t show it to me.”
  • “They wouldn’t pay me for overtime.”
  • “They wouldn’t allow me to take off to help my mother who was getting out of the hospital.”
  • “You can’t take time off to take your child to the doctor.”

This one I heard often, “They wouldn’t issue me chemical near the end of the month because they were over budget.”

In fact, I interviewed one supervisor who left his last job because the owner’s policy was that if he were over his chemical budget for the month, he was to “cut off” chemical distribution to employees.

This is beyond greed — it is theft. Such owners are forcing technicians to either pay for their own chemicals or spray water. The customer is paying for results and the company’s chemicals. If you do not give them what they are paying for, you are stealing from them. It’s as simple as that.

One company I visited was really greedy. They would advertise that the firm could get rid of cockroaches in any room in the house for $29.95. Then the sales rep would go to the home/business and add on rooms and other insects like ants and spiders and would end up selling them $200 to $300 worth of services. This is illegal. It is called bait and switch. So the sales reps would cheat the customers but the owner also cheated the sales reps as they were paid different commissions for different rooms and insects. They never saw or understood how their pay was calculated. It was like watching two leeches staying alive by sucking the blood out of each other.

I’ve heard from fumigators who were told to shoot less gas than what is required because the price of the fumigant went up. Unbelievable. The fumigators told me that that would only lead to another fumigation but the boss told him that most people won’t call back or they could cancel them before they find out.

Granted, this is rare, but it is still out there and we can’t be naïve about it.

One service rep I interviewed told me that he was paid “under the table” for two years while he was collecting unemployment. The boss paid him in cash about $5 an hour and told him that it was like $12 an hour because he wasn’t taxed on it. He found out he was getting taken advantage of and turned the boss into the IRS. Good luck to the both of them.

Another guy I interviewed for a job told me that he was looking for another job where he could be paid in cash, as he was on welfare and unemployment and didn’t want to work and lose his benefits. He worked for another pest control company for a few years but they were bought out and the new owners wouldn’t pay him that way.

Then there’s the boss who wouldn’t put new brakes on the service vehicle and the employee got into an accident. The insurance company found out that the owner knew about the brakes and did nothing about it. It was called negligence. They wouldn’t represent him and the lawsuits began. Ever been in a lawsuit? They are very expensive and time consuming. The good news is many of them can be avoided.

What You Can Do.

Being cheap or frugal is no crime — but when you take it further and become greedy — that’s when the you-know-what usually hits the fan.

I remember years ago when I stopped performing termite pretreats. I got out because it was hard for me to compete against those few rogue firms that got the bid because they didn’t spray the right amount of chemical. Many were put out of business.

I am not talking about everyone in this great industry — I am talking about the bad apples that were and are in the industry. Those that are greedy and disrespectful.

What can we do about it? We can report them to the proper authorities, quit working for them and with them. Cut them out and cut them off.

In the end, what goes around comes around and everyone gets their due. I believe that. On occasion I have worked with a few of these companies and never returned when called back. Why should I knowingly help these people?

Some agencies that enforce our industry do a great job helping weed out these bad apples and some of them don’t. Some have their hands tied because of a lack of resources; some have a few bad apples of their own.

Most everyone in our industry is hard working and plays by the rules. Of course, just as in your personal life, some people go down another path. Remember the golden rule. And if you work with or for one of these greedy bloodsuckers — move on. Don’t get caught up in it. Life’s too short.


The author is a pest control industry consultant with more than 30 years of experience. He can be contacted at