The thumbtack and the Coke
BUSINESS MATTERS (BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE) - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2020 - 12:00am

An old story talks about two physicians who boarded a flight out of the San Francisco airport.

One sat in the window seat and the other sat in the middle seat. Just before takeoff, a lawyer got on and took the aisle seat next to the two physicians.

The lawyer kicked off his shoes, wiggled his toes, and was settling in when the physician in the window seat said, “I think I’ll get up and get a Coke.” “No problem,” said the lawyer, “I’ll get it for you.”

While the lawyer was gone, one of the physicians picked up the lawyer ‘s shoe and put a thumbtack in it.

When the lawyer returned with the Coke, the other physician said, “That looks good, I think I’ll have one too.” Again, the lawyer obligingly went to get another Coke, and while he was gone, the other physician picked up the other shoe and put a tack in it.

The lawyer returned, and they all sat back and enjoyed the flight. As the plane was landing, the lawyer slipped his feet into his shoes and knew immediately what had happened.

“How long must this go on?” he asked. “This fighting between our professions? This hatred? This animosity? This putting tacks in shoes and spitting in Cokes?”1

Doesn’t this speak about people in business? There seems to be no end in trying to put one over the other. I’ve been caught in the middle of a company that is going through a bitter and ugly conflict. People who used to be friends are now the most bitter of enemies. Endless meetings, shouting matches, threatened lawsuits, and never-ending attempts for power and control. As both parties in the company attempt to win my favor, I look at them and ask them one simple question.

I ask, “Gentlemen, beyond the rhetoric and the hysteria, am I correct in assuming that the one and only interest everybody is after is just money?” Everybody remain silent because I have struck a nerve. It’s just money anyway. But words said cannot overpower the greed in their hearts.

One began putting a thumbtacks in the shoe, and the other began spitting in drinks, and the conflict continues.

Meanwhile, many good people leave, and many continue to leave. The brand name is losing its appeal, and it’s only a matter of time before the business will fail. I surveyed the situation, and though the conflicting parties are both my friends, I tendered my resignation from the board because I did not want to be caught between a rock and a hard place. Greed is ugly. Even the most decent of people show off their fangs when the heart goes after personal gain.

The whole incident makes me think. They teach you a lot of things in business school and you get to learn so many things when you enroll in a graduate school for business. You spend a fortune for all those certificate courses and seminars presented by Ivy League universities and I’m sure you’ll learn a lot from it, but they never teach you how to handle the greed motive inside the heart.

The best of friends can turn out to be the worst of enemies whenever conflicts in business arise, and the funny thing about this is that the parties involved will never admit that it’s just a battle for money. They will always say, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing.” Well, actually it is the money, nothing more, nothing less.

Jesus is right on target when he says, (Mat 6:24 NIV) “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” He surely knows the human heart. This principle is in the Scriptures and hard to find in business schools.

(Francis Kong will hold his two-day Level Up Leadership 2020 workshop-seminar this March 11 and 12 at the Makati Diamond Residences (near Greenbelt 1). For further inquiries or reservations contact April at +63928-559-1798 or register online at

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