Operating a business presents ever evolving challenges. Recently we had a “new to us” experience when we uncovered something about a vendor/service provider that was disturbing and apparently, hidden to the degree possible. Without naming names, what happened is that we hired a company to provide us a specific service. The working relationship was never completely smooth, but the jobs got done. But there were many frustrations on our end, and something just never seemed “right.” The frustrations came to a head and both firms decided to end the working relationship; however, it was handled in such an acrimonious way by the vendor that my partner decided to do something we should have done at the outset, a simple internet search. We thought we had done our due diligence in reviewing this firm’s website, negotiating a working arrangement, doing a general internet search on the company, and checking references. We even made an out of state trip to visit this person and his operation. We failed to notice that none of the names of the company’s principals are on the company website. That, by itself, might not seem very strange, but it is odd thinking about it now. But, many things became crystal clear with the internet search when, lo and behold, the 4th search result revealed that the president of the company has a serious criminal history and served time in a state prison on very disturbing charges. Do his criminal acts and history have any bearing on the work he did for us? I don’t know. But, does it create an ethical dilemma for us to have someone with that history involved on our clients’ sensitive projects? Maybe. Had we found out about the background prior to terminating the working agreement, we would have faced a difficult situation in inquiring about the criminal background in order to determine if we could continue the relationship. But, it is clear that, with the resources available today on the internet, it is advisable to research both the company and principal individuals involved in the company in order to determine whether there are any skeletons in the closets that could emerge and cause problems. As it is, perhaps some of the conflicts we experienced with this person are explained as part of his personality which lead to, or resulted from, his incarceration. Lesson learned. Future vendors will be more fully vetted so that there can be full disclosure.
In today’s business world, the client/vendor relationship is no longer as personal as it once was. Decades ago, it would have been unheard of to hire a vendor sight unseen, but in today’s climate of virtual employees, off shore service providers, and others whom a client has met only on line, the dangers involved in not knowing who one is hiring are magnified. Based on the horrific nature of my company’s recent experiences, I will say we have learned a great deal, at a tremendous cost, about the need to conduct full background checks of everyone whom we hire as our vendor. When I hired the vendor who is the subject of this post, although I went through all of the usual due diligence customary in my field of expertise, I stopped short of checking on the owner of the company, instead, relying on information I received about the corporation (including reference checks). Upon meeting this person face to face several months ago, I was immediately struck with a sinking feeling that something was very wrong and that attempts were being made to deceive me. Although I took steps to replace this vendor with another, my search was not easy and, as a result, I continued to pay this vendor to perform a service needed by my company. I limited my contacts with this person (due to a “creeped out” feeling, in less than scientific terms!), preferring instead to communicate via email. When the vendor became unwilling or unable to perform the job I, as the client, required the company to perform, I began to send a series of emails, to which the vendor’s responses were increasingly unprofessional, odd, and in general, scarily threatening. FINALLY, I put my training in criminology and psychology to use by merely typing in the person’s name on my trusty iPhone and, as David described, lo and behold, there appeared the person’s mug shot! As it turns out, the owner of the company that my company had been hiring has a violent criminal history, including serving “hard time” at one of our nation’s most notorious prisons! The crime for which this person was imprisoned is such a heinous one that this person will be on probation for many years to come. The lesson learned in this awful experience is that business owners cannot limit their background checks to potential employees and independent contractors. Instead, in addition to checking on the companies one hires as vendors, the principals of these companies must be completely vetted as well. Meeting the person(s) face to face or, at a minimum seeing a facial photograph, is also necessary in order to verify that the mug shot (when applicable) depicts the correct person instead of someone with the same name. It is truly a different world these days and adapting to it sometimes comes at a huge cost.