Owner’s View: by Peter Herm
Early in my career, I worked on the floor of a major financial exchange. This was an eye-opening experience to a teenager whose sole asset at the time was a 1962 Chevrolet van. Every minute the floor traders in the pit were making million dollar deals by hand signals and nods.
The traders had to trust each other’s word as their trades made or lost millions of dollars by the end of the day. Their word was their bond. There were no 27-page legal contracts reviewed by armies of overpriced lawyers, with commas argued about and witnesses to each signature. Trading was very simple: One honorable guy sold to another honorable guy, in seconds, by voice. Their word was their bond.
The lesson in this experience is that the most valuable people you will encounter, whether they be fellow crew members, owners or vendors, are those who do what they say they will do. If they make a commitment to do something, they do it. Certainly, there are times when external events prevent someone from living up to a promise; once in a while is OK, regularly is not.
In getting the U.S. boat ready on a tight schedule for a fun-packed season in the Bahamas this year, we dealt with a number of contractors and vendors. Some were local and some were distant or online. I was shocked – though I should not have been – at the percentage of people who did not keep their word or live up to their commitments.
These commitments could have been something as simple as “I will call you tomorrow,” or as complex as “of course we can have the new headliners in by Thursday.” One highly recommended canvas company promised to send someone out to look at the project three different times and never showed for any of them, despite repeated calls. Online vendors committed to certain shipping dates for simple items, yet missed them by weeks. None of this is surprising, given past experience, but it is nevertheless frustrating.
The electronics front was almost amusing. We had decided on a switch from our antique Furuno autopilots to Simrad’s that the captain and I had both loved on other boats. The contractors who came to bid the job both kept saying they were waiting to hear from Simrad before they could complete their quotes. We assumed this was contractors stalling; Simrad could not be that unresponsive. My assumption was wrong as my own attempts to get someone from Simrad to help us were just as futile. So we decided to give Furuno a shot. The Furuno technicians answered calls on the first ring. We now have new Furuno autopilots, and I am tossing the Simrad plotter in the tender in protest.
Vendors and contractors can come and go, but crew should last for a long time and be the most diligent about living up to commitments. The best crew are those who perform as promised. Owners should, of course, live up to their commitments to crew equally. The challenge in commitments is to be careful as to what you commit.
I am not suggesting you adopt the “qualified commitment” strategy: “I will call you tomorrow if I can.” Rather, if calling tomorrow is questionable, commit to the day after and call tomorrow. Under-promising and over-delivering is a very, very powerful tool in employer relationships and customer service. My shining example this season is Amazon. If I ordered something from Amazon, it showed up when promised, every time. Several other online vendors are getting a lot of stuff returned because it showed up long after the boat had left the U.S., despite their promises to the contrary.
Living up to what you commit to do, no matter how minor, is a major life skill to learn. Certainly, you will not live up to every commitment, but if you can deliver on even 50-plus percent, you will be far ahead of most of the competition.
Bow West and High Tide Only!
Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Comments are welcome below.