There’s the owner of a popular restaurant who is struggling with cash flow issues. He’s behind on payments to his suppliers and has maxed out his line of credit. Is the problem rising food prices? A sudden loss of customers to the new eatery across the street? Expensive upgrades necessary to satisfy health inspectors? None of the above. The restauranteur has been draining cash from operations to finance a relationship with his gorgeous, new girlfriend, “the love of my life,” who has an insatiable appetite for the finer things and a luxury lifestyle.
Or how about the highly regarded, young CEO of a booming boutique event-planning business. Her gift for sales and reputation as a focused and detail-oriented innovator are her firm’s primary assets—she’s its rainmaker. However, lately, she’s been off her game and preoccupied, resulting in the loss of her biggest client, which in turn forces her to lay off a third of her employees. When asked, she insists she’s fine. The truth: Both she and her business are suffering from the strain of hiding her secret: She is a victim of ongoing intimate partner abuse.
These are just a couple of the hundreds of scenarios I’ve been privy to as a veteran business and financial journalist, with more than three decades covering many of America’s most successful and influential entrepreneurs. (I’ve changed some details to protect the identities of people I respect and whose trust I value.) During that time, I’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between our business, career and financial success and our proficiency in making healthy relationship choices, especially in our pursuit of love, sex and marriage (not necessarily in that order). I’ve addressed the subject of how poor relationship choices by entrepreneurs can put their businesses at risk on several radio and television shows, including MSNBC’s Your Business with Host J.J. Ramberg.
Entrepreneurs, including highly successful ones, fall in love just like most people. Many risk all—including access to their business assets, as well as their personal finances—by blindly and prematurely trusting those they become emotionally or sexually involved with. Among the costly actions engaged in by romantic interests (or businesspeople desperate to please them):
- Relationships that become sexual harassment suits when they end poorly
- Conflicts of interest/compromised judgement that negatively impact business performance
- Illicit affairs that put a business and other assets at risk in a divorce action
- Embezzlement/misuse of company resources
- Identity theft/fraud
- Financial manipulation/infidelity
- Criminal behavior, including larceny, extortion, insurance fraud and murder
Here’s the scariest part: Most of these will go unreported. Why? Because the victims are either too embarrassed to admit that they were taken advantage of, or they blame themselves for being foolish and gullible. In any case, they’d rather take their losses and forget the whole thing, than diminish their images and reputations as smart businesspeople. Others, including business partners and employees, who might know the true story may keep it to themselves for fear of violating the privacy or provoking the ire and retaliation of one or more of those involved in the relationship.
So, while we in the media might report on the consequences of poor relationship choices made by business people—a sudden (forced) resignation, a scandal followed by a quiet, yet costly settlement, a string of poor sales quarters, etc.—we often can’t or won’t confirm and report on the relationship choices that are the underlying causes of these outcomes.
The bottom line to all this? As business professionals and entrepreneurs achieve greater levels of success, status and wealth, they must never forget the first rule of healthy relationships: Protect yourself at all times. Withhold access to your body, money, home and heart until you have done your due diligence and are clear about who a person is, not just what they are (i.e., gorgeous, sexy, irresistibly charming and seemingly crazy about you).
Falling “in love” or otherwise feeling an intense attraction to a person, while common (and perhaps, even inevitable) is not the same as knowing that person. Too many careers, businesses, fortunes and even lives are lost because people forget that relationship decisions (especially sex, co-habitation, procreation and marriage) have financial and legal implications as well as emotional ones—until it’s too late and the damage is done.
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