Does your business have a menschy quality?
By Danny Bloom
CHIAYI CITY, Taiwan — Michael Hess writes columns for the CBS MoneyWatch website, and a recent column headline caught me eye online: “Is your business a mensch?”
I knew right then and there I wanted to contact Mr Hess over the Internet and ask him some questions about how he came up with the idea for the article. From our first Facebook contact to a later email interview, here’s the story.
Hess is founder and CEO of Skooba Design. (In a pre-interview chat, as an aside, he told me that he is a first-generation American on his father’s side — his father and extended family members having been concentration camp survivors.)
“For those who aren’t hip to Yiddish, the word mensch is the highest praise one can bestow on another person,” Hess explained in his column for a general readership. “It basically rolls all of the finest characteristics and aspirations of humanity into a convenient, punchy, one-syllable word. If someone describes you by saying ‘what a mensch!’ you pretty much can’t do better. And though the word originates from the German for ‘human being,’ your business can and should be mensch-like too.”
Hess added: “The general attributes of a mensch are absolute integrity, steadfast reliability and unfailingly high standards of behavior and character. In other words, a very solid citizen. If you believe, as I do, that genuine humanity is at the core of all great businesses, then a great business should aspire to these same qualities.”
So how does a person, Jewish or non-Jewish, run a mensch of a business? Hess listed a few suggestions: Always do the right thing; Say what you mean, mean what you say; Be good to people; Be dependable; and be a mensch yourself.
“No business — especially a small business — can successfully maintain a culture or set of standards that aren’t passionately exemplified at the top; it has to be practiced before it can be preached,” Hess says. “So if you run a business and want it to be mensch-like, start with yourself. If you are not the first to do the right thing, say what you mean, be good to people and be dependable, organizational mensch-hood is not in the cards for you.”
“Bringing the mensch mentality to your company means thinking about your business as a ‘collective of character’ — a group of people behaving and working to the highest possible standard, with intentions and actions beyond reproach. Earn that reputation, and great things are sure to follow,” he concluded.
When I first asked Mr. Hess if he had time for a short interview about his “business as mensch” ideas over the Internet, he replied in Internet time and asked me the first question, saying: “How in the world did you wind up in Taiwan? I know we Jews have a penchant for Asian food, but that’s an extreme way to get it!”
The interviewee’s first question to me well delivered, Hess then said that he himself has spent “a lot of time in Asia, with countless trips to just about every Pacific Rim country over the past 20 years, both for manufacturing and customer visits.”
When I told him I enjoyed reading his column about the mensch concept used for better business performance and asked how the column started, what the inspiration for it was, Hess replied: “I wish there was some really interesting story behind the inspiration for it. But basically I was reflecting about how often my brother and I have heard other people say to us ‘you boys are such mensches‘ over the years, how proud we both have always been of that reputation – it makes up for many other flaws – and how I have tried to instill ‘menschy‘ values into my own children, especially my son — who happens to be getting bar mitzvahed soon. And in thinking about that, I thought about how proud I am that my business is also mensch-like, and that turned into the article. I have always run my business in a way that would make a bubbie say ‘look how menschy that boy’s company is’, and I wanted to encourage others to do the same.”
When asked if he had written earlier articles about the mensch philosophy, Hess told San Diego Jewish World: “I haven’t written stories specifically about the word ‘mensch‘ in the past, but I have written many stories on the general theme of the importance of being a good person of character and running your business accordingly. I am very big on ‘elegance’ in all things business, and have always said the highest praise someone can give my company is to say ‘Skooba is a class act.’ Basically, that my business is a Mensch.”
I asked Mr. Hess if there might be a book in him about business practices and the concept of being a mensch to all your customers and suppliers and business partners, Hess said that while he is not working on a specific book on being a mensch in all one’s business dealings, he did says that he is working on three books now, and that the ”mensch” subject matter ”definitely plays a part in at least one of them.”
Bloom is Taiwan bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World and an inveterate web surfer. He may be contacted at email@example.com
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=31768