Dec 16
2014

It's a business…

My favorite basketball team fired yet another head coach yesterday. We began the season in surprising fashion… 5 wins, 1 loss – the best start in years! After years of torturous dysfunction under old ownership it finally looked like things were going in the right direction.

Nobody had expected this start, especially since the Kings had the toughest schedule in the NBA to start the 2014 season. Nobody expected our inexperienced and unproven head coach to mold a team of previous malcontents, cast-offs, and young players into a squad everyone else in the NBA was scared to face.

My Sacramento Kings fought, scrapped, and maintained a winning record deep into November — then a funny thing happened. Our best player was struck down with viral meningitis. We went on a small losing streak, and ownership fired that scrappy coach seemingly out of nowhere — a little over a year into his 3 year guaranteed contract.

Reaction started to come in from players, fans, and people around the league. The phrase that was repeated over and over? “It’s a business”.

It’s a business

If you’re a fan of sports you’re no doubt familiar with this pithy catchphrase.

  • When nobody can explain a cold, unexpected decision management just made? "It’s a business."
  • When management needs to say something in order to distance themselves from wrongdoing while avoiding explanation? "It’s a business."
  • When you can’t express emotion and say what’s really on your mind? "It’s a business."

Turns out that Kings ownership wanted to can Michael Malone since last summer, and used the losing streak as an excuse to finally fire him. Instead of owning the decision they leaked various reports of infighting to the media. Backroom politics, shady dealings…

Certainly sounds like "business" to me.

If you’re in business you’ve no doubt run into similar situations.

  • That resume you sent that never got a response? "It’s a business."
  • Management wants to move in another direction? "It’s a business."
  • The reason you’re forced to talk with a demeaning phone support representative with no power to actually help you? "It’s a business." (…and probably a big one at that.)

Humanity vs Business

This phrase – this attitude, is adopted by successful people everywhere you look. There’s got to be something to it, right? The new owner of the Sacramento Kings sure is successful. Vivek Ranadive. Tech mogul…CEO of Tibco. Billionare. He certainly subscribes to that mantra.

After running into this attitude constantly I wondered if you have to think the same way to achieve similar success.

It’s as if treating people in a human, personable, and empathetic manner is somehow anti-business. As if being transparent, accepting the consequences of your actions, and standing up for what’s right isn’t conducive to success.

Perhaps that’s why some businesses stay small…profitable, but not hurtling towards an IPO, venture, and acquisition.

Everything about the phrase "it's a business" rubs me the wrong way.

If that’s the case, I’m completely happy to stay small. Completely happy to trade high character and thoughtfulness for impersonal throwaway phrases and a disposable workforce.

Yes, “it’s a business”, but in business you’re dealing with people — your customers and employees. In my book, those people always come first.

Written by Seth B

As Principal of Subimage LLC, Seth spends most of his days improving Cashboard. Occasionally he finds time to write about music, design, startups, and technology.

Tagged: business, startups, saas