I’m glad there’s someone like you to talk to right now because I have a touchy problem at work and I’m not sure how to manage this delicately.
First, a little background. We’re a small business of about thirty employees with a long history in our industry. The current owner’s grandfather started the company back in 1926 and so staying in business through all the economic highs and lows for almost a century is quite an accomplishment. As the credit and collection manager for over 25 years, I’ve seen my share of the challenges that we’ve overcome and grappled with.
Throughout the decades, many of the original founder’s children and grandchildren have worked here. Some have contributed enormously, and others have attempted to “just park themselves” and receive a check. A few have also moved on to set up their own business in the industry and have at times become either a customer of ours as a distributor, or as a supplier, assisting us in obtaining raw materials more cost effectively. Fortunately, none have become a competitor and that’s mainly because of our niche brand.
Over the past year, the owner’s first cousin, to whom we have been selling our product for a few years now, has become more and more delinquent in paying us. I’ve brought up the past due balance to our president but because he is very close with his cousin, he continues to cut him a lot of slack and tells me to remind him but don’t cut him off. Well, not only has that strategy allowed the balance to mushroom, but now I’m getting worried about some new, truly troubling information about his cousin.
One of my responsibilities as credit and collection manager is to run a personal background check on the executives of our customers when credit limits requested exceed our established credit policy. However, when the supplier relationship with the owner’s cousin began, the amount of credit required was low and, being family, we didn’t worry (or I should say I was cautiously optimistic).
But the other day, I ran into the cousin at a supermarket and noticed he was driving a new and gorgeous BMW. Naturally, alarm bells went off. How is this person able to afford a very expensive car while still owing three to four times more to us. Without my president’s knowledge, I decided to run a personal background check.
Here’s what I discovered:
- The cousin is being sued by several unpaid contractors for extensive and expensive work performed on his home.
- He had been arrested for possession and sale of illegal substances.
- He has also been arrested for domestic abuse against his wife and there was a restraining order against him.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. I need to tell my president ASAP. What bothers me is that even though running personal background checks on company executives is part of my responsibilities, I feel guilty and devious for running a report on a close family member of my president.
How do I break the news to him and still keep my job?
Troubled in Topeka
The first thing I would like you to know is that I applaud your actions of running a personal background check, even if the target of the investigation was the owner’s cousin. The reason I support you is you have shown a great deal of concern for your own company’s well-being. In addition, as the credit and collection manager, you have a fiduciary responsibility to protect your company’s assets, which includes doing what it takes to legally and ethically protect the accounts receivables, inventory, and cash.
Secondly, it’s obvious from what you found out that the cousin is not only in financial trouble, but legal trouble as well. It’s only a matter of time until he comes crashing down, presumably going bankrupt, and not being able to pay your company.
Now, perhaps you should have first approached your president and let him know what you saw at the supermarket, namely a very new and expensive BMW, and suggested running a personal background check on the cousin. Hopefully he would have given you his blessing. I’m imagining however that perhaps you felt he would have been against it, which is why you went ahead and did it without mentioning anything to him. Does that sound right?
Well, as they say, “The horse is out of the barn,” and it’s time to be straightforward with your president. For whatever reason he has not been assertive with his cousin, the situation has become quite serious, from a financial as well as a criminally legal standpoint.
What I would suggest, is in view of the revelations, you may want to express to your president that his cousin needs help. This is an opportunity to put the brakes on and begin the process of dealing openly, honestly, and forthrightly with the situation. Only then can any solution to the underlying problems affecting his cousin, and in turn your company, be implemented.
If your president views your efforts negatively, you may want to consider another place of employment. In my view, every company should want a caring employee such as you.
Let me know what happens.
Dear Crabby is a credit and collection advice column by Nancy Seiverd President CMI Credit Mediators Inc. Your thoughts and comments (firstname.lastname@example.org) are most welcome!
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