Million Dollar Bribe

Life is hard. Starting a business isn’t easy. In November 2007 I decided to quit a good-paying job that I hated, and take a crack again at starting another business. I’ve started several. Most have failed. I’ve been blessed and my company Professional Cable is still running almost 10 years later.  We supply cables such as Fiber Optic, Ethernet for Networking, and HDMI cables. As I’ve gotten older and had more children, the pressure of making sure there is money in the bank & food on the table is daunting. Then in 2012, we had an epic medical emergency when our son Xavier was born 3 months premature and ended up spending 4 months at Primary Children’s Hospital. He developed hydrocephalus (see the post on hydrocephalus) which has required 8 brain surgeries. So I know a little about financial stress.

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A few years ago one of my competitors in the cables industry filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors. They had been supplying a major electronics retailer and this retailer was looking to replace that vendor with a new one. We somehow got the opportunity to bid on the business.  The revenue that this represented was at least 2 times our annual revenue. Maybe more.  It was a very big deal. I put a lot of time into the bid proposal. I submitted photos of our products and mock-up packaging. I worked out the best prices with our factories in China. I drafted up planograms, wrote marketing proposals, and finally sent in samples for approval.  It seemed that we were in the running along with two or three other companies.

Then one night I got a phone call on my cell phone. On the other end was the buyer from this electronics store. From the loud background noise and the somewhat slurred speech, I gathered that he was at a bar.  He said that we had the business. I couldn’t believe it! All the hard work paid off! Then he said, “I just need 5 percent.”  I was confused and I didn’t want to sound like I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I said, “Sure. If you need a 5% rebate or additional 5% in marketing, I think we can work that into our program.”  He then said, “No, I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. I need 5 percent.”  I was speechless. Was he saying what I thought he was saying? I had heard of bribes but never experienced one. He then said, “This is the same program we had with the previous vendor. You can’t tell your wife or anyone about this. It’s just between us. (Secret combinations from The Book of Mormon are going through my mind).  He then went on and explained how to do it without getting caught. He said, “Here is how you set it up so it doesn’t show up on your financial records. You get the price from your vendor and ask them to include a 5% markup. They take that extra 5% that you pay and they wire it to my private bank account which I will provide. That way you are paying exactly what your purchase order says, and it’s the Chinese factory that sends the money to me.”  I was trying to process everything that I was hearing. So much was running through my mind. Do people really run their business this way? This is so wrong! It’s not fair to the owner of the electronics retailer who should be getting any discounts the vendor provides. This guy is just an employee. He wouldn’t pay taxes. This just felt wrong. So I said, “I don’t think this will work for me.” He then said, “Look, this is a lot of money. This is how it’s done. Think it over tonight and get back with me or I’m giving the business to someone else.” I said that it wasn’t going to happen, but that we could talk tomorrow. Afterall, the guy sounded like he’d been drinking, though he sure seemed to understand the ins and outs of how to do this without the IRS or my CPA seeing anything fishy on our end. He just magically would be driving really nice sports cars and have a second home on the beach somewhere… I’m guessing… Or maybe he would just keep eating Kraft dinners but buy really expensive ketchups… All the fanciest Dijon ketchups!  Who knows. Crazy.

After this strange call, I called my friend Shawn Rapier, who I’ve mentioned before gave me the inspiration to start my blog.  (See first blog post) I needed to talk to someone who might have run into this before. He is an industry expert in retail sales and has worked with some top manufactures and top retailers around the world. I asked if I was just naive and if this is how some companies operated? He said that he’d heard of things like this, but that he had never been approached. Lucky me!

When I finally spoke again to the buyer it was awkward. We didn’t speak of the bribe. He knew that I had no interest. I’m not sure if the company they ended up sourcing their cables from paid him or not. I heard a couple years after, through someone else in the industry, that he got caught, but I can’t be sure.

I’ve thought back on this and how if I had gone ahead with his plan, what would have happened if he was caught? Would the IRS have come after me? Would I have gone to jail? If not, would the word have gotten out and would my reputation in the business world have been ruined? Or at the very least, would I have tarnished the image of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because so many of my customers and vendors know that I am a Mormon? I’m so glad I walked away from that deal. It felt dirty. I knew it wasn’t right. Nevertheless, I remember I couldn’t help but think of how great it would be for my tiny company to get a windfall of sales like that. I’m sure that is what the prophet Joseph Smith went through when he first saw the golden plates. How could he not have had that go through his mind, even if it was only for a split second? He was looking at more gold than he’d ever seen! Think what that would do for his family! The angel Moroni “added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise, I could not get them.”  Joseph Smith History, 1:46

Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Seventy told of a similar experience which he had when he went on his first business trip with his father, for whom he worked. They also received a bribe from a huge potential customer. After the bribe was offered, his father told the customer that they would think about it and then they left.  When they got into the car his father told him, “Listen, Rick, once you take a bribe or compromise your integrity, it is very difficult to ever get it back. Don’t ever do it, not even once.” Read the full story of Elder Maynes experience here.

Elder D. Todd Christopherson also spoke of his integrity being tested during the Watergate trials in Washington D.C. “The life lesson I took away from his experience,” he said, “was that my hope for avoiding the possibility of a similar catastrophe in my own life lay in never making an exception—always and invariably submitting to the dictates of an ethical conscience. Putting one’s integrity on hold, even for seemingly small acts in seemingly small matters, places one in danger of losing the benefit and protection of conscience altogether.”  Read the full story of Elder Christopherson here.

I’m glad that I didn’t take the bribe. Our finances have not been easy. I truly don’t know how we made it through all the mounting bills. My only explanation is that we were blessed by continuing to pay our tithing.  Xavier is 5 years old now and we’ve managed to work out payments for his astronomical medical bills. (I also had a hip replacement three years ago to add on to the bills.) We’ll get through it. Like I said, life is not easy. I would have never thought that we’d have the trials we’ve faced. It tested our family. It tested our faith. Keeping your integrity and self-respect though is something worth more than gold. That’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment. Someday my children can be proud that I did not take that bribe.

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