Act like an owner


I remember my first business trip at my first job after college. It was in NYC on a press tour for a client (I was at the PR firm Weber Shandwick at the time).

I assumed I would spend the trip eating Subway sandwiches and fast food, the cheapest food possible so that it wouldn’t cost my company, or my client, any more than was necessary. I remember a colleague taking a $4.50 bottle of water out of the wet bar and being shocked (shocked!) that they would do this. That was a WAY overpriced bottle of water, that our client was going to have to pay for! I couldn’t believe it! Shoudn’t we be more frugal? Shouldn’t we be more careful with our client’s money?

I soon realized that eating fast food with and without clients wasn’t always feasible. But I still cringed at the price of unscrewing that small bottle of water next to the bed at hotels.

When I joined Microsoft a couple years later, I remember watching colleagues order extra computer equipment for their offices – not because they needed it, but because they could.

I remember going on business trips – client visits, trade shows, etc. I was shocked at what was ordered and purchased, all on the company dime, and often without a client anywhere in sight. Colleagues laughed at the idea of dining at Applebee’s (Subway was out of the question), and headed to Morton’s instead. “Uncle Bill” was picking up the tab, so order what you want!

Years later I joined a private start-up. Our CEO was also the founder. The majority of his personal net worth was tied up in the company.

I realized I had come full circle. At this company, I made purchase decisions like an owner because I worked for the owner. Even as the company grew quickly, the culture was such that we all spend (and saved) money like it was our company.

No matter where you work – a company large or small, private or public – there’s no reason why we can’t all take an “owner” mentality.

Do you really need an expensive agency to help you create a new customer promotion, or do you have the smarts and customer knowledge internally to hunker down, get create, and do the work yourself?

Do your customers really want to be taken out to the fanciest restaurant, or would they be impressed that you take them somewhere more reasonable, proving that you’re investing your money in product development and not on wining & dining?

Do you really need that extra magazine subscription, or can you share a subscription with a couple other colleagues down the hall?

What if your company was your company? What if purchase decisions you make every day had a direct impact on your personal net worth, your personal savings?

Would you make decisions any differently than you do today?

What responsibility do you have to your company to spend wisely? What example are you setting for those around you? If you’re a business leader, what levels of accountability are you creating for such behavior, and what rewards are you putting in place to encourage the right fiscal actions?