People who start companies are not “normal.” They start companies for a variety of reasons. Some are successful at it, and some are not.
There is a segment of these people that I refer to as “miners.” It’s a term I made up years ago to try to explain the behavior I have witnessed and/or read about by people who start and (to the benefit and detriment of the company) stay involved in running the operations and interacting with the employees of the company.
Why the term miner? To be blunt, these people operate on one principle… “It’s ALL mine, and I want YOURS.” No matter how much money and success they acquire, it’s never enough. Miners take and they rarely give back. They resent sharing monetary success or credit for a company’s success. In their world, the credit can only go to the people that provide the capital to start a business.
Capital and ownership is the altar at which they worship. Labor workers, i.e. everyone else in the company, are irrelevant interchangeable cogs in the company’s operation. Certainly the employees are never viewed as an ingredient of the company’s success. That would mean capital is less important.
It’s an outdated approach to building a company. Sure, it worked fine in the Industrial Age of the United States from 1865-1920. But once the balance of capital and labor became so skewed even the robber barons of the day had to acknowledge that employees were important to the company’s success. Of course, that doesn’t mean they were willing to share the monetary success of the company. They just wouldn’t fire the employees indiscriminately.
Privately held companies are the breeding ground for “miners”. The “everything is mine” attitude can be tempered in a publicly held company simply because the company is usually treated as a separate entity, not an extension of the Miner. They are incapable of seeing the company as a combination of assets and people. It is all about them, 24/7. I have had to bite my tongue many times when hearing a “miner” say that, “people are their most valuable asset”. I knew they were lying. I wonder if they did?
Unless you work closely with this personality type or read a biography on a famous businessperson who lacks basic human qualities like compassion, consideration, fairness, empathy, (e.g. Steve Jobs), you may not immediately put people in the “miner” category. However, if you read on, I’ll bet you have seen some of these personality traits in businesses you have worked in:
- Miners have no regard for anyone else’s time. Last minute cancellations of travel, endless tardiness to appointments, and lack of recognizing weekends and holidays as non-work days are part of every miner’s existence. They like to associate this lack of regard for other’s time as a quirky endearing aspect of the “owner.” In reality, it is nothing more than a complete lack of consideration for others and a show of disrespect for the people that are working to make the company successful. Another element to this habitual abuse of time is control. Showing you have no respect for someone’s time is showing you are in control of them. The tardiness is to show their time is more important. Another building block for control.
- Inability to maintain a consistent strategic vision for the company. Since most miners only dabble in the operations of their companies, their only way to maintain some kind of control is to interject, or impose yet a new strategic direction on the company. Senior managers have the unenviable task of trying to “sell” the new plan to the company employees. This leads to a conundrum for the senior managers. They can only disagree with the miner so many times before they are considered a “NO” person and find themselves looking for a new job.
- Miners love sycophants. It takes a while to build a staff of them, but endless turnover due to changing direction and general lack of consideration will ultimately get the miner what they want. Miners go to great lengths to surround themselves with people who do not have the standing or the ability to have true intellectual debate about issues. They rarely have friends that are not people who they also pay as consultants in some way or that they are far above on an socio-economic basis. They don’t like equals and they never have partners. Having partners means you have equals and logic has to enter decision-making. That is not in the miner’s skill set.
- Any money paid to employee is “given”, not “earned”. Since Miners have no regard for employees and believe that they are not only entitled to theirs, but also to yours, they view compensation paid to employees as money out of their pocket. It never fails to astound me how shortsighted a miner can be. Rather than looking at the return that employee compensation provides, the miner looks at the absolute value paid and resents the fact he had to pay it. This also is part and parcel of the miner looking at the company as an extension of themselves and not a separate entity. Everything coming from the company is a gift. That is a terrible way to view the company and how employees fit into the structure.
- Miners trust no one in the company. Given the way they view employees, this is no great surprise. Miners tend to gravitate towards outside attorneys, accountants, and consultants. These are people who have no stake in the company’s success and are trying to please the miner at all times. They become the shadow management for the company in many cases. Miners love it because they have another group they can get agreement from.
- Miners are always searching for the “new girl” at the dance. Because they don’t understand people and have no loyalty to anything except building more wealth, they are constantly bringing in someone who is the “greatest”… for about six months. Once the shine is off the new toy, it’s time to go to another dance. I have seen this countless times in different organizations. Hell I’ve been the “new girl” several times in my career only to learn the lesson of being discarded the hard way.
- What’s good for the miner is not good for the employee. One would think that miners would want their behavior to be emulated by people in the company. Bad assumption. Miners have the unique ability to act in all the ways I have described, and also be highly critical of people who exhibit the exact same traits. I sometimes have wanted to say, “You just did that, Tuesday. Why are you criticizing Bill for doing it today?”
- Once a miner achieves some financial success with a company they believe they are experts in life. They are ready to tell you how to live, dress, think, vote, etc... Much like a Hollywood actor telling you to reduce your carbon footprint as they board their private jet to ski in Vail. Disgusting.
If you have seen this behavior, you probably have run into a miner. You most likely shrugged off some of the behavior and made your own decision about how you dealt with it. Usually my decision was to rebel. I was neither a good politician nor a sufferer of fools. Believe me, it wasn’t always the smartest path to take.
I believe in people/labor and I believe in ownership/capital. I believe companies are separate entities from their owners. Wine Hooligans is a composition of many people’s talents and contributions. Labor and capital can be blended together in a way that lets every person in the company not only be a part of the success, but feel as if they are an important component to that success.
Time will tell if I am right.