Greed is good -- sometimes Featured

11:32am EDT April 22, 2005
I have preached for years that greed is good and argued that greed can act as a beautifully simple setter of deal parameters.

When both sides of a deal are greedy, each will only do a deal that is good for itself. With both sides finding the deal to their benefit, the deal can be consummated as the prototypical win-win.

I still strongly believe this, but with a little less absolutism than a month ago.

I've recently seen exceptions that can jeopardize a deal. For example, one party can greedily try to take advantage of a change in the status of a deal. Deals are never static; things change, and the deal becomes almost organic in that it moves and nearly takes on a life of its own.

If the parties are aware that the original deal is bound to change to some extent, there is no problem. The deal's parameters that were set with the help of greed remain in place, and you move forward. It is when one party tries to take advantage of another during a change that greed can become a deal-killer.

No matter what kind of deal you are doing, you have partners. This can be as simple as one buyer and one seller, or it can be as complex as the multiple constituencies in a Chapter 11, where nobody can become even partially whole without the consent of others, even if the other is the bankruptcy court.

So I've modified my belief to say that greed is good when structuring a deal. But if greed later makes parties forsake their partners in pursuit of their own interests, greed loses its positive aspects and reverts to the evil that moralists have universally condemned.

When you strike a deal, it's imperative to honor what you've agreed to. More important, stick to the principal elements of the deal.

And when opportunities to take advantage of changes at the expense of your partners appear, pass on them. That type of greed will only ruin your opportunity rather than enhance it.

Erwin Bruder (ebruder@gordian.org) is president of The Gordian Organization. Reach him at (216) 292-2271.