Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2004 / 23 Shevat, 5764
The smallest slight, the biggest headache
My father used to say, "Neil, be careful how you treat people on the way up, because you're going to meet them all on the way down."
I never forgot that. His message was as simple as it was true -- don't be a jerk. It always comes back to bite you. I suspect more than a few big corporate honchos have found the wisdom in that warning.
Just ask Martha Stewart. By all indications she not only treated Robert Faneuil poorly, she treated him horribly. He was the low man on the totem pole, the broker's assistant who got her wrath, and later, her number.
In stinging testimony, Faneuil talked of a Martha Stewart who routinely berated people on the phone, particularly him. Sometimes it concerned substantive issues, more often, silly issues. She'd scream about being put on hold. She'd scream about the music that was playing when she was on hold. She'd scream about the audacity of a brokerage giant to be subjecting big shots like herself to lousy music when she was on hold.
And she'd scream at Faneuil himself for being everything from clueless to incompetent. And something tells me Faneuil tracked it all, recorded it all and remembered it all. He got his chance to unload to a jury that probably came away less than favorably impressed by the decorating diva, not so much for what she said and did, but how she said it and did it.
I just wonder how differently that testimony would have been had Faneuil been treated more nicely by Stewart. What if she were pleasant? What if she laughed with him? Or joked with him? Or kidded him? What if she didn't demand answers but calmly asked questions?
I guess we'll never know. But I bet had she been a little kinder, he wouldn't have felt so free to be a little meaner, a little edgier and a little tougher on the stand. Maybe it's just me, but I think people who are treated like crap relish dishing out the same stuff when they get the chance.
Who knows that better than Michael Eisner? This past week, he got an unexpected and apparently unwelcome takeover bid from cable giant Comcast, and all because he dismissed the originally friendly overtures from the company as silly, maybe even a waste of time.
His reaction was as predictable as his past performance. He treated Roy Disney like an annoying Disney family hanger-on, ignoring his advice and, more often than not, ignoring his questions. Finally Roy walked, and now he's leading a palace revolt that some say precipitated the Comcast bid itself. It's hard to say.
This much is easy to say . . . when you burn enough people over enough time, when you assume you're on top of the world and ignore the rest of the people in the world, well, you have a world of problems.
It's the little things that do it. Ignoring guys who want your ear, and others who seek nothing more than an acknowledgment they're alive. Few big cheeses act that way. It's why some big cheeses get in big trouble.
Dennis Kozlowski, the former high-flying and high-spending Tyco chief executive, seemed to put more emphasis on fancy art and pricey umbrella stands than he did his own people. He didn't seem to care that he was potentially bankrupting them, only that he was enriching himself.
Martha, Michael and Dennis have as much in common as I do with Jack LaLanne, Bruce Jenner and Derek Jeter. But I suspect what bonds them is the personal behavior that sometimes defines them.
Each, in his or her own way, isn't exactly gifted with people, particularly "little" people, people who can't seem to do much for them.
The reality, of course, is each person we encounter is part of our circle, whether we acknowledge it or not. My father also used to say there's no energy wasted in a smile and a kind word. Sometimes they go a long way.
Just like sometimes not doing either can go an even longer way.
Just ask Martha or Michael or Dennis.
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Neil Cavuto is managing editor of Business News at FOX News
Channel. He is also the host of "Your World with Neil Cavuto" and "Cavuto on
Business." Comment by clicking here.
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© 2003, Neil Cavuto