Playing to Win. And Why Not.


By Barry Maher

I was consulting with a CEO who shall remain nameless. We were playing golf with one of his competitors, a guy I’ll just call Jim. The CEO was trying to buy Jim out and they’d come to an impasse in the midst of the negotiations. So, like 12 year olds, they’d decided to use the golf game to settle the one remaining issue: the timing of when my client would take over the monthly cash flow. I’d guess $100,000 to $150,000 was at stake, maybe a bit more.

On the seventh hole, both the CEO and Jim had hooked their balls to the left behind some trees. I was driving our golf cart, we were in front of Jim’s cart, and the CEO had me stop on the way to his ball, saying he’d walk to it from that point. As I was about to drive away, I saw him kick at the rough, then move on a few feet and do it again. Then he went off towards his own ball another 10 or 15 yards down.

When I got to my ball across the fairway, I saw Jim was searching for his own ball, right around where I’d dropped the CEO off. He never found it, though he was “certain it stopped right around here.” He couldn’t understand it, but he didn’t seem at all suspicious. Obviously he took a lost ball penalty.

My client end up winning the match by two strokes. Later, in the locker room while we were alone for a few moments, I asked him about the incident

“That was about $75,000 per kick, I made right there,” he gloated. “That’s probably more than the top kickers in the NFL make. Of course, there was also a bit of creative math involved as well. And I just may have adjusted our friend’s lie a bit back there on number 12. Just being helpful. I know old Jim boy likes a challenge.”

I have no idea why he felt he could tell me this or why he thought I’d think it was clever, which he obviously did. But it put me in a horrible position. I was working for this clown. I didn’t feel I could either be a party to this nonsense or take the confession he’d revealed in confidence to his competitor.

While I was mulling it over, he smiled, “Our pal Jim just bought me that new boat I’ve been thinking about.”

“No,” I decided. “Jim’s buying the drinks. Because we both know you were just kidding about playing for the monthly cash flow. No serious businessperson would settle issues like that based on a golf game. All we were really playing for was drinks.”

I had to dig in my heels but strangely enough, the CEO didn’t really seem to mind backing off and retroactively changing the stakes to drinks. He even thought it was funny, telling the whole story to one of his cohorts at the country club later that evening. To him, it was all just a game: the golf, the negotiations, the business, it was all part and parcel of the same game. All played by the same rules, which were, very simply, whatever he could get away with.

© Copyright 2014, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada


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