What would you do?

This is a quiz. You get to pick your own answers.

Experience in business is by far the best teacher. We learn many times under fire how to make split-second decisions. In this month’s column, I’m asking you, the reader, three questions based on a unique experience I had. Along the way, I’ll reveal which forks in the road I took. Was I right or wrong? You can be the judge. Here’s the story:

I was sitting at my desk when my assistant buzzed me to say she had a caller on the line who claimed to have “monumental” information about one of my competitors that would change the landscape of the industry.

Question No. 1

Would you have taken the call based on the questionable veracity of the subject matter? I chose to have the call put through. The purveyor of this allegedly extraordinary information turned out to be the ex of one of my competitors, and she began to tell me salacious information about her former “life” partner. In 30 seconds, I realized that what I was hearing had nothing to do with the business or the industry, and I quickly terminated the call.

Question No. 2

Should I have moved on and forgotten this macabre interruption, or should I have mentioned this to my general counsel, primarily as a CYA? Even more intriguing, should I have let the competitor know what had just transpired? I chose the latter two options, but used a trusted impartial third-party intermediary, who knew the competitor and me to relay to my nemesis what had occurred. First, I thought it was the right thing to do, and secondly, it would be nice to have an archrival owe me one.

A couple of days later I got another highly unusual call, this time from the competitor who told my assistant he wanted to talk to me about a nonbusiness personal matter. In my industry of less than a handful of mega players, it was almost unheard of for two competitors to talk alone, primarily because of antitrust concerns.

Question No. 3

Should I have accepted the rival’s call? After a moment’s hesitation, I did. My counterpart began by thanking me profusely for letting him know what had happened. He explained he was in the midst of a messy situation and this was not the first time this type of call had been made to an unlikely recipient. He concluded by saying that his attorneys had gone to a judge and gotten a restraining order to put a stop to the nonsense.

Again, I ask what would you have done under similar circumstances? I justified my decisions because I’ve always believed that it never hurts to listen, especially in the precept of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. There’s a caveat about listening — you must be sure to verify what was learned before acting on the information.

Let me know if you think if I was right or wrong, but please don’t call, because I’m now much more circumspect about taking calls from unknown numbers.

Please email your comments to [email protected]

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of
$5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide. Today, as founder/CEO of Max-Ventures, his firm invests in and consults for retail businesses.