What do you do when business becomes brutal? What happens when what seemed like a good business deal is revealed to be an exceptionally bad deal or when a professional relationship becomes irreversibly adversarial? And what do you do when even your best efforts to resolve a misunderstanding or a conflict don’t work and you find yourself in a lawsuit!
I am not a litigious person. I am keenly aware that litigation is tough and at times can be brutal. In all of my years in business, I have rarely been involved in lawsuits or have sued anyone, and I only seek a solution through the courts when I know for certain that I am in the right and the opposing party will not come to the table. Even when I do file a lawsuit, I still try and work things out. I’m a fourth degree black belt, yet at heart, I am really a lover and not a fighter.
The Allen Morris Company recently found itself in conflict with a construction company that grossly mismanaged a job and then tried to blame the lengthy delay on us. Despite confidence that we were 100% in the right, we tried four times to settle the disagreement rather than get enmeshed in a lengthy and costly lawsuit. Disappointingly, the opposing party was intransigent.Why would they not be reasonable, I wondered, especially since the case we presented to them was crystal clear? Perhaps because they are a $6 billion company and believed they could pressure us and wear us down in the legal process. Perhaps the ethics of the situation were not important to them and they felt they had a financial advantage in fighting us in the courts. Maybe they were too distracted with other, bigger issues to care very much about our $4.2M in delay damages on the Hermitage Apartment Homes in St Petersburg, Fl. Even though The Hermitage won the Florida’s Best Award in 2018, the contractor mismanaged the job and delivered the project a year late, costing out investors millions in delays, interest and lost rent.
It’s hard for me not to take it personally, but I have to try to remember that I can never see things fully from another’s perspective. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his ancient wisdom that‘the problem is the opportunity’ and that ‘the obstacle is the way.’ My latest favorite book is entitled,The Obstacle is the Way, The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Truimph, by Ryan Holiday. It illustrates how unexpected obstacles and conflicts force us to find creative, unexpected, and often better solutions. Rather than curse and fight the obstacle, accept it as the new path. This helps me to remember that most of the time our Plan A in life rarely works out. We are usually pivoting to Plan B or even Plan C, which has often turned out better! We should expect that even our best laid plans will rarely go as intended and so we should embrace ‘what is’ as the new, unexpected opportunity.
Our three year legal battle with the contracting company ended last month. The result is that it created an extraordinary learning opportunity for our development team and for myself. It also helped The Allen Morris Company think and work better as a team and to get very clear in our own minds about what we believe is right and wrong, and where we could be better. So, even a time-consuming, nasty lawsuit, as well as defending ourselves in a nasty counter-lawsuit, can be a good opportunity for personal and professional growth, both for the individual and for a company as a whole.
The happy ending for us was feeling vindicated when the judge ruled in our favor on all claims! (Miami Daily Business Review article.)Yes, it was a win for us and it was a win for our investors, but just as importantly, it’s now a very important part of our company culture and our story. The entire staff of The Allen Morris Company knows that we take our responsibility to our investors seriously, and that while we always want to negotiate and settle problems around a conference table and not in court, when we must go to war, we will, and we will go to win.
When business becomes brutal, look for the opportunity it creates for re-evaluation, creativity, and personal and professional growth. Let the obstacle be the way and you set yourself up for success in business and in life.