Thursday, April 12, 2012

Do the right thing.

This blog post has been brewing in my brain for years. When I decided to go to business school and focus on the hospitality industry for my career, a very big part of my motivation was not financial but humanitarian. I had been out of high school for 5 years, had a few interesting jobs, a few crappy jobs, went to three different colleges for one semester each, ski-bummed for two winters, and felt I was beginning to learn enough about the world to decide on a path.

Being a child of the '60s I had always wanted to do something to make the world a better place. As an adolescent, civil rights/poverty and the environment were the big issues for me. At one point I contemplated law, another thought was marine biology another was solar energy engineer. Then as I watched the world and learned more about how it worked it seemed to me the people who had the most potential influence both good and bad were the entrepreneurs. So I returned to school at CU Boulder, got my business degree (magna cum laude by the way) and had planned to join my father's business, make money and do charitable projects. Well those who know me, know that path was severely altered and eventually (15 years later) I ended up in the wonderful world of catering and special events which I now love.

Along the way I realized if you did not have gobs of money to give to charity, there were still many things an entrepreneur could do to make the world a better place. One thing I realized is very important is providing a good living for your employees and creating an environment where people like to get up in the morning (or evening in our biz) and go to work. Another important aspect is being a good corporate citizen in all matters surrounding your external environment. A third key principal is doing what you can for worthwhile causes, even if it's not cash but goods and services, influence, marketing and PR, etc. So here I am in 2012, working my rear off to reestablish my presence and financial solvency and all of a sudden this week comes along and forces me to write this diatribe before I can get any of my real work done. The brain just has to be purged.

So what led me to this point? My Facebook friends probably know already. The Five alarm fire in Kensington that occurred on Monday night was just three blocks from my apartment. As most know two firemen were killed in the aftermath of the blaze, and as I took a walk that morning I looked into the faces of at least a dozen firefighters who had just found out the tragic news. I cried. I got mad. Really mad. I took my anger to Facebook and tried to spread the word as best as I could. Then Tuesday and Wednesday I had to get back to work.

So now I get to the point I am trying to make. The absentee owners of that building did NOT do the right thing at all in their management of their ownership of that building. When I say "do the right thing" you could say that is totally subjective. Yes, but in most instances I believe that presented with evidence an overwhelming majority will agree on what is right and what is wrong. Is firing someone two weeks before their wife is about to give birth doing the right thing? No. Is firing someone during the holidays for reasons other than illegal doings doing the right thing? No. Is letting a building deteriorate to the point that the Thomas Buck Hosiery Building did before the fire doing the right thing? No. Just this week I found out a former business associate did not pay me a mutually agreed upon amount for a executive recruitment project. Is that doing the right thing? No. Lying, cheating, stealing, misrepresentation, are they the hallmarks of a righteous businessperson? NO!!!

So. What can be done? Many have said to me "Harry, that's the way things are always done in Philly" My response is so what, we have to do better. In my youth Philly was a boring, barren decaying city. Look at what we are now. Completely revitalized and exciting with much better things on the horizon. So what can we all do to improve things? Here are two suggestions.

Do the right thing. Don't cheat people to make a little extra money. Recycle. Be aware that you are sharing this planet with many others and that the Golden Rule goes a long way. Work together with your competitors to make your industry better. Smile. Let merging cars in. Don't be rude, Philadelphians are infamous for this. Don't fire people without truly giving them chance. Be true to your word, not just contracts. That's just a few suggestions.

Second suggestion. Maybe more powerful. Try to do business with those companies and people that do the right thing. Seek out vendors and collaborators that win awards for best employer or most environmentally conscious. Do they cheat to get ahead? How active are they in charity support? Is it for PR or for real substantial support? Ask around, Google them, read their Facebook and Twitter posts. Find the best, because economic Darwinism works faster than biological Darwinism.

One of my favorite questions in life is this: do they ends justify the means? Many justifications for horrible acts are based on the ends justifying the means. My personal take is no, the ends never justify the means. Why? You never get to the end, that's why, because the end is death. There was a bumper sticker/t-shirt a few years back that said: "the one who dies with the most toys wins". I could not disagree more. The one who dies with the most people saying the nicest things about them is the winner because that person's children and children's children will be forever proud of them.

No pictures today, I wanted the words to stand on their own. Hope you got something out of them.

Peace & Love,


  1. Great Post Harry. It all comes down to accepting responsibility and being accountable. Sadly, most of the world does whatever they can to avoid being held accountable or taking responsibility for their own actions. Look at the recent financial crisis, the "stand your ground" laws or the fact that someone can win a law suit after spilling coffee in their lap. it is disheartening at times but all we can do is try to set positive examples and hope others follow.

    1. Most people are good folks. Unfortunately a few bad apples can spoil the bunch!

      Important not to let the 'bad apples' cloud our thinking and visions.

      Most folks -- yes even in Philly - do the right thing. Look at our wonderful organizations like Project H.O.M.E.; Ceasefire; Moms against Guns; Liberty Scholars; Summer Search -- groups like Center City District, Musicians on Call/XPN that are making our city a safer and better place to live.

      The owners of the building were negligent and will hopefully be held accountable.

      In the meantime what can we do? Send donations for their childrens education perhaps? Cookies and meals to the firestation who lost their colleagues to let them know even strangers care? Support in any way one can?

      Philly is no different than any other city, work environment or family. You have many more good folks than bad...we need to keep looking at all the good and find ways to eradicate the few bad apples!

  2. I agree most people are good. I like your ideas for raising money for the families. I think an even more important action would be to help create an environment where the type of behavior that causes things like this becomes so universally frowned on that the politicians hand is forced to make enforceable laws to prevent future occurrences. I am 100% positive that there are municipalities around our country that have laws on the books, that put into effect here, would help end the epidemic of the abandoned warehouse owned by wealthy investors waiting to make a killing, literally and figuratively. You have to try.

    What I am trying to do is shine the light on the rat's nest. Don't ignore the problem. Face it. Talk about it. Get angry. Do something. Enlightened business owners can do more to effect the everyday life of the people than any government.

    If you are not part of the solution, you ARE part of the problem.

  3. I believe there is much to be said about a point you raised: "Work together with your competitors to make your industry better. "

    I've been following a non-proprietary philosophy for quite some time now... why fight over an ever shrinking slice of pie when you can share with each other to GROW THE PIE and thus make each individual slice of it considerbly larger?

    Makes sense to me, but unfortunately not to the majority.

    There are abbrehent blips on community radar screens where this has happened, but not enogh to make a dent in the current climate of jungle economics.

    Yes Harry...everything you do in life, and in business, should have a spiritual component in its basic structure...otherwise, what's the point?

    I'd like to ask that of people who sell credit default swaps. I like money as well as the next guy, but if gains are ill-gotten, and you weren't focused on leaving good in your wake... you are a usurper not a maker. You are a taker and not a sharer.

    That isn't just sixties idealism. We either contribute, or we don't. That's the main imperative of human existence, and to squander the opportunity is the highest form of un-enlightenment.

  4. George, we think alike, slicing garlic like Sorvino and making more pie. I have multiple caterers as my clients and that is what I always tell them, let's make more pie.

    Well said comment, an honor to have your thoughts here.

  5. Great post Harry!!
    As someone who has worked for both Harry & Jon Spivak with Max & Me Catering, I can honestly say that I was treated with dignity & respect..... I've worked for at least a dozen caterers, and Harry Spivak was and is a stand up guy.....a true mensch!.....and this coming from a guy who generally has suspicions about most owners in the Philly catering scene.

  6. Thanks Anonymous former employee! Did you know that Jon just opened his new catering company and cafe? Next to Peddler's Village it's called Chive Cafe & Catering. He still treats his employees with respect and his catering is delicious AND affordable!

  7. Some very profound thoughts here! As someone who has been beating my head against the brick wall of the event industry and the legal system for years, I would LOVE to find a way to make people see the "doing the right thing" is not a negative. Too many people do what makes them feel good or what is expedient or what is "fair" to the masses. I have done things for charities, I have worked hard and I have always been fair and honest. The result is that I am homeless, broke and without family support. I have also lost my grandchildren- 2 babies who now live a dreadful existence, all because I DID THE RIGHT THING! I have spend years referring clients, blogging about event industry vendors and using what I know to help others. Where are they now?

  8. just a great post to create awareness...thanks Harry!

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