Every employer wishes that all of his employees would look at the business the way that he does. I did when I was an employee. I was constantly looking for ways to do things faster and at less cost. I figured that if the company was making money, the owners would have more to pay me.
It didn’t always work out like that, but I never stopped thinking that way. Perhaps that’s why I eventually went from being an employee to owning my own business.
Every business inevitably accumulates records of various kinds. Some records you are required to keep to comply with state and federal regulations. Others you keep for business reasons. One of the businesses I owned was no exception.
At the start of each year, we would move our files containing sales and invoice information to storage boxes, which were then taken to an attic area. This freed up the downstairs file cabinets for the current year’s information. Usually we kept the two most current years downstairs in file cabinets and the rest in the attic.
One day I noticed that the attic area had about 40 boxes of records going back about 12 years, while at the same time the space was starting to get crowded. The easy solution would have been to simply throw the old records in the trash, but they contained customer credit card and other somewhat confidential information. I decided that the responsible thing would be to have the files shredded, and I showed the boxes to one of my employees. I asked him to call a few local companies and get a price for shredding about eight years of the material.
When I was informed a day later that it would cost around $1,200 to have the files shredded, I decided that maybe there was a better solution. So I informed the same person to take one of the boxes and to go through the files and sort out credit card numbers and similar information.
Several hours later I walked by my employee to find that he was about one-fourth of the way through the first box. Clearly, at the rate he was going it was going to take about 2½ weeks for him to complete the job. At his rate of pay that would cost the company well more than $2,000 for sorting — compared with the $1,200 price for shredding all of the material. And this did not include what it would additionally cost to have the sorted material shredded afterward.
I instructed my employee to stop what he was doing and return the box to the attic area. But I still can’t get over wondering why my employee couldn’t realize that what he was doing was going to cost far more than the other way. I guess the answer is that he did not have an entrepreneurial mind.
The boxes were still there when I sold the business several years later. I have often wondered whether the new owner had the same concern as I did for customer confidentiality.