Not long ago, I was invited to an event held by one of the world’s leading investment firms. The similarities between most people in attendance were uncanny: powerful men, wearing suits worth thousands of dollars, and watches that probably cost a small fortune. Not surprisingly, the atmosphere surrounding the event was almost a cliche of how powerful men talk and behave.
Throughout the day, many panels on doing good business were held, and each speaker shared their version of proper behavior when investing. Most of the ideas revolved around taking good opportunities, and aggressively attacking them. For example, one speaker said that the first thing he does when investing in a company, is getting rid of all the members of management, and appointing members of his own.
But then, someone different took the stage. He was head of one of the smaller firms in attendance (still in the billions, though), and from the minute I saw him, in his modest-looking tweed blazer, he attracted my attention. When asked what he thought is the most important aspect of business, he used a word that was previously not uttered that day: “Nice.”
“To me,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “as important as it is to find good opportunities, being decent and nice to the entrepreneurs you work with, is no-less important.” The room fell to silence. An air of contempt was felt, as he calmly continued to explain the reasoning behind his word-choice. “Being nice is good for your business, great teams will want to work with you, will be willing to give you better terms — not to mention that you all benefit from the pleasant atmosphere. It’s important to me that if my kids meet someone I do business with, they would hear: ‘your dad is a really good guy.’”
I was in awe of this man. There he was, in a proverbial shark tank, surrounded by these corporate warriors, discussing the importance of being nice. What really impressed me was the fact that he wasn’t hesitant or apologetic, and showed as much confidence as any other speaker there, while presenting his rare business philosophy. In an ocean of forceful language, he was an island of calmness. As powerful as all the other men in the room were, in my eyes, he was the bravest speaker there.
I admire people who are not afraid to do things their way. If there’s something I’ve learned in my many years in the field of venture capital, it’s that there’s no one way to succeed. So many of us in the industry yield to these notions of power, and forceful language, and forget that things could be done differently. I think the most important thing I took from this event is the notion that, when you’re good at what you do, you can be successful without having to give up on what you believe is right. When doing business, it is important to be assertive, make good decisions, and take advantage of good opportunities — but you could still be “nice” when doing so.