After 50 years in business starting or working 20+ companies, people ask me to tell them stories of what I’ve learned. In this video, I want to talk about forgiveness in business. Those two things may seem incompatible but in my experience in Rocky Mountain, forgiveness really makes a huge difference.
This is a transcript of the video, provided for those that prefer reading:
In today’s video, I want to talk about forgiveness in business. Those two things may seem incompatible but in my experience in Rocky Mountain, forgiveness really makes a huge difference.
Darren was a young 15-year old guy in Smithers, BC with a pretty new Rocky Mountain hammer and was leaving school one day…off the school yard and down the hill when his front wheel came separate from the forks in the frame. He augered into the dirt pretty badly and ended up with a concussion— where he had loss of speech and some memory lapses.
Well, Darren’s dad was incredibly angry and wanted to sue everyone that could possibly be attached to this; starting with Rocky Mountain bicycles, the designer of the bike, the frame, the forks, Shimano that supplied the quick release, and the bike shop that put it all together. And the lawyers came after us for a defective part: something wrong with the end of the fork that caused the quick release to come loose. And I won’t get into the design criteria of a bike in those years but rather focus on Darren and his dad. His dad was so angry.
My lawyer told me, “You know you got to treat these people like the enemy. You can’t ever talk to them; you can’t ever converse with them without me present. They’re going to try and twist the things you say and cause you to say things that you don’t want to. So be very careful.” And over two years things went back and forth. The worst time I think was during discovery where I just had to put the whole business on hold and spend all my time defending this case. And the lawyers tried their best to make something that we did as designers the fault and pursued every angle they could.
It ended up in BC Supreme Court at the end of about two years as I said. And after about a week, it was Darren’s turn to take the stand. And uh that afternoon, Darren tried. I could see that there were issues. His memory wasn’t great and his speech was definitely halting and slow. But he tried. The judge convened us for the day; and the lawyers went off and had this ferocious argument about some point of law that I have no idea what it was. And I saw Darren walking off towards the edge of the atrium and leaning against the railing. And something in me compelled me to go and talk to him.
I walked over, almost pushed over, to talk to him:
Me: Hey Darren
Darren: Hey! I really wish my bike hadn’t got smashed. Man, I’d love to get a new Rocky Mountain bicycle.
Me: Well, that could be arranged.
Me: Yeah, I could get you one.
Darren: Oh, that’s incredible! You know what I’d really love? A tour of your factory! See where they’re made.
Me: Yeah, I could arrange that too.
Darren: Oh that’d be super! Is that possible this week that I could pick up the bike and get the tour with my dad?
Me: Well, I don’t know…we could see.”
Darren: Hey, you know when I graduate…I hear that you give internships out to people that just work for the summer on an internship. Could I get one of those?
Me; Yeah, yeah Darren. We could, we could possibly do that too.
And by this time the lawyers are on us. Darren’s dad and his lawyers are on his side. And Paul’s pulling me away with yanking on my elbow and saying, “What are you talking about? Don’t you know you’re never to talk to them without me there?”
“Ah, we were just chatting about bikes,” I said. “Well, what did you say?” demanded the lawyer. “I don’t know, just a few things. No big deal.” I replied to him. “Okay, well, we’ll see you tomorrow,” said the lawyer.
Well, I wasn’t looking forward to another grueling day in court. But we said our goodbyes.
I got a call surprisingly around 10 or 11 o’clock at night from Paul, my lawyer, that went like this:
Paul: Hey Grayson. Did you promise Darren a new bike?
Me: Yeah, I did, Paul.
Paul: And a tour of the factory? And an internship?
Me: Well, yeah, the tour of the factory. Internship, yeah, maybe. It’s going to be a while away.
Paul: Well, Darren doesn’t want to go on the stand tomorrow. He says he just doesn’t want to fight you anymore and doesn’t want to fight Rocky.
Me: Oh yeah?
Paul: Yeah. And his dad, I guess, his dad realizes he’s going to have to settle. So you don’t have to come to court tomorrow. We’re going to try and settle.
They settled. All the lawyers got together, Shimano, the bike shop, Rocky Mountain, and they settled. And the judge called us in the day after and said, “You know, I don’t know what happened. It’s a mystery to me but I would have settled much more in favor of the plaintiff. But you’re done. And Paul nudged me and said, “Mystery to me too.”
Well it wasn’t a mystery to me. I knew what I did when I walked across that courthouse floor. I realized I could forgive. I could see some unseen hand of love in the act of just treating Darren as a young, brave kid who was trying his best to make it through life wanting a new bike; and I promised him three things.
I’d fought two years against enemies and I didn’t win anything. No, I just forgave. It’s tough making that choice. To forgive is hard. But oh my goodness– the idea of winners versus losers, friends versus enemies is so short-lived compared with forgiving enemies and experiencing the freedom that comes from just that ability to let go; and especially the bitterness that I felt. Bitterness towards enemies can produce such a profound tightness whereas forgiving can produce such openness to care. Now, I don’t know if Darren’s dad changed; or Darren. Didn’t matter actually because I changed and that change continues to profit me in business to this day. This may not be the last story on forgiveness as a matter of fact.
Have you experienced anything of the work of forgiveness in your business life? I look forward to hearing your comments.