Saturday, April 14, 2012

Banned for life

Have you ever hated a company so much that you swore them off for the rest of your life?

My late father was a successful engineering professor for most of his life, who eventually became a university president. What is less well-known about him was that in the early years of his career, he worked for a major oil company. He and his co-workers hated working there. In fact, they hated it so much that as he left this company, this practical and fairly even-tempered man made a vow with his co-workers never to purchase their products again as long as they lived!

Perhaps it sounded like a few disgruntled employees blowing off steam. But as we grew up, our family got used to the idea that Dad would always drive past this (major) brand's gas stations, in favor of any other one. Over time, it became part of our family history.

Of course, being a family tradition, his children honored it as well. I certainly never wanted to disrespect my father and use this gas station either. In my entire adult life, the only time I ever made an exception to the family boycott was when I was running out of gas in the middle of the Arizona desert, in the middle of blistering 100-plus degree heat, when one of their stations was the only one around for many miles. But even then, I felt kind of like a Hindu vegetarian who had just eaten a greasy pork sandwich to survive.

Perhaps a fitting epilogue to this boycott came late in my father's life, when he attended a reunion and reconnected with some of his fellow engineers from that oil company. And guess what - they confided to Dad that they, too, had honored their vow never to use their products in their vehicles. All their lives. And probably passed it along to their children too. Meanwhile, in my own family, this boycott will soon be entering a fourth generation.

So how much do your employees love your company? Would they purchase your products and services after they leave? In fact, would they leave in the first place?

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