I used to work out with this guy who was pretty successful. I say “was” because as far as I know, he’s not anymore. I saw him the other day and he looked pretty weathered. He’s fallen on hard times, of sort, I mean he’s not panhandling or anything, but he’s not riding high like he used to. Gone is the Porsche and Hummer. Gone is the big house. Gone is the swagger. I think I know why – The Last Nickel.

Back in the day, maybe 20 years ago, he and I lifted weights together in the mornings. We got to know each other well enough and I considered us friends. As you would expect, we shared stories of life and business. Over time, I came to know a bunch of guys that were in his industry and occasionally his name would come up and they all would get the same look on their face – “Oh, he’s tough. I wouldn’t do business with him for the most part” would be the general sense. At one point, he was buying a new home, so he asked me to do his loan. At the end of the deal, just as we were wrapping up, he called me to discuss my fee. We were friends. I just originated  his loan and knew exactly how much he made, what his net worth was, pretty much everything. He was killing it and I was not. He asked if I would reduce my fee. I might have mentioned that we were friends, so I said I would. I offered to cut it about 10%. Silence.

“What?” I asked.
“I was thinking you’d cut it in half. I mean, I brought you the deal, we’re friends, half is a good paycheck for such an easy deal. Half makes sense.”

In the end, I cut it another 10% and we moved on. But we didn’t move on; or rather, I didn’t. I don’t mind negotiating. People should negotiate and this guy was good at asking for more. If you don’t ask, you don’t get for sure. But this seemed different. The money wasn’t material, he was doing it for sport. I didn’t quite articulate it in my head at the time, but I wasn’t easy on how this went down. It felt like he wanted to look down on me as a lesser being.

A while later, he was telling me about a deal he put together buying a piece of land. It was at the end of his telling me this story I knew we couldn’t be friends. He had negotiated to buy the ground and said he got a good price. Then after due diligence, he went back and asked for a price reduction. He got it! He was thrilled. He laughed. Then, the story continued, as the contract date where his earnest money would become non refundable, he went to the Seller, this old guy as he described him, and told him he couldn’t close at the contract price. He needed another price reduction. He got it!!! Now the price was a crazy low price and ‘my friend’ was ecstatic. But then, the story went on, as closing approached, he went back one more time because he knew the Seller had purchased another property and needed this one to close. He asked for a huge discount in order to close on time.  He was laughing at how he bent this old guy over. And so you see how at the end of him telling me this, I was appalled. I knew we couldn’t be friends because of this man’s belief that all’s fair in business. His ethic was “If you can, you should.”

The entire history of mankind has stories like this where a shark eats a flounder. My ex-friend’s style wasn’t to just win, it was to capture trophies. He wanted the heads of animals that he killed mounted on his wall. When negotiating, if there was a nickel left on the table, he needed it. He wouldn’t close the deal without it. That kind of style leaves a residual as all styles do. The kind of feeling I had when our loan deal concluded was such that I couldn’t trust him to consider my interests if we were to ever do business together. And so we never did. And, as it turns out, one by one others fell out of his life till he became somewhat of a pariah. In the end, one guy got so pissed off he made it his mission to bring Last Nickel down by buying up his outstanding bank debt and forced this guy into bankruptcy.

Accumulate stories like this in a man’s life and what are the possible outcomes? His vibe was one of a shark’s. I have known many “Last Nickel” guys like that and one by one I’ve eliminated them from my life. They are not win/win or mutual benefit guys. They see the world as a killer sport or survival of the fittest where the only ethics are power plays. Last Nickel is now down to his last nickel and legally bankrupt, but I propose he was morally bankrupt long before that.

“No man is an island”, starts the poem by John Donne. It ends “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.”

To your building a residual of a win/win style,

Dave Marr

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