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Reputation: Looking After One of Our Most Valuable Assets

By George Hannan April 01, 2024 Lifestyle

When we met up for our regular walk, coffee and pastry, it seemed my friend Doug wasn’t his usual relaxed, nonchalant self. So I asked how it felt to be back in his top-to-bottom newly-refurbished apartment.

All along, while the major renovations were going on, he had been so impressed with the quality of the work and the service the builder and his team were turning out.

Especially the builder himself, who had made a very positive impression.

For example, during the work Doug discovered someone had broken his vacuum cleaner. He approached the builder who said he’d replace it, no problem. Yet another positive tick on the builder’s scorecard!

Now, the project was complete, and Doug had paid the balance.

Hero to Zero

And two silly things had happened that disappointed and annoyed Doug to the point where the reputation the builder had established with Doug was condemned to the trash heap.

First, the new shower had developed a leak into the apartment below.

Ok, these things happen. But the builder’s response to Doug was to ignore the appeal from the neighbour below as the neighbour couldn’t prove the leak was from Doug’s new shower anyway.

Doug was flabbergasted and took it upon himself to have the problem investigated and resolved. As any reasonable and conscionable person would.

On top of that, Doug had to remind the builder he said he would replace the vacuum cleaner. So the builder went and got a replacement, telling Doug it was an expensive model, but the builder had been able to get it at a discount. And that was the last Doug has seen of the builder.

Now, wising up to the apparent calibre of person he was dealing with, Doug went to one of the big department stores to have a look. He discovered he had been given the cheapest vacuum cleaner available to replace his broken model.

And to add salt to the wound, Doug had gone to the trouble of presenting two bottles of good wine to the builder for the good work and service. Before all this blew up of course.

The Undoing

So, looking at the whole performance, what have we got?

Someone, the builder, who depends on a good reputation for a livelihood, worked hard and got 95% of the way to closing out the project with one more happy client, and plenty extra reputational goodwill in the bank.

Only to throw it all away on the home straight. To snatch moral defeat from the jaws of victory, so to speak.

How? By demonstrating questionable ethics around the leaking shower, being a cheapskate by trying to save maybe $30 on an inferior replacement for damage that was his responsibility, and by being untruthful about it.

The builder had saved himself about $30, walked away with a reputation of being unscrupulous and untruthful, and have the word spread around.

All completely avoidable, and very poor judgement at a professional and personal level.

What Would We Do?

We all face choices like this from time to time, or even frequently.

What guides our response? Is it nature or nurture?

I suspect it may be some combination of both.

Sure, we’re all given a measure of free will to determine the principles and morals that guide our actions under most circumstances.

It also seems some influence may come from the examples set by people we might look up to or idolise, or by people we might adopt as role models, good and bad, etc.

But, at the end of the day, we make our own choices, whether by default or wilfully.

Those choices are worth thinking carefully about. Not only do they impact our own self-image, they play an important part in how we are perceived and defined by others.

That matters when those others may have a significant bearing on our happiness and success in our life journey.

The Oracle Says

A couple of quotes from Warren Buffett, business and investment icon, and celebrated Oracle of Omaha, occurred to me as foundational in getting our thinking straight when it counts. For example, in circumstances such as those the builder created for himself.

It relates to our ‘inner scorecard’ in essence. The ‘inner scorecard’ is an idea that anchored much of Buffett’s thinking over the years, and it relates to principles.

One of Buffett’s quotations that puts it in perspective says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

And if ethics come into it, such as our builder friend suggesting we ignore our neighbour’s problem with leaks from our new shower, Buffett’s “newspaper test” is a great way to help us decide what to do.

It works by us imagining how we would feel if what we did was reported the following day in the local newspaper, with the assumption that the write-up was authored by a smart but unfriendly reporter and read by our family, friends and neighbours.

Buffett’s bottom line is that if our decision or action passes this test, it’s OK; if it doesn’t, it’s not. Simple, but effective and revealing!

From there back to our builder. Seems he might do well to build Buffett into his reading schedule. And while Buffett may be better known in business circles, very few people have a more incisive perspective on life at a personal level too. On that score I’d recommend the book The Snowball – Warren Buffett and The Business of Life by Alice Schroeder (Bloomsbury, 2009).


We’ve all had occasions when in hindsight maybe we should have done things differently. Or come across others whose actions impacted us negatively and were aligned with short-term gain but long-term pain. Or maybe simply not knowing any better.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you value your reputation? Does others’ reputation mean something to you? It would be great to hear what your guiding lights have been and what lessons or wisdom you have taken away from these kinds of situations. How did you choose your role models and what influence might they have had on how you tackle issues?

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I am finding that in today’s inflationary environment, people are bending the rules and trying to cheat others out of their hard- earned money, especially the older population. Therefore, we need to always be one step ahead when it comes to business dealings. And if the bill is higher than expected, just refuse to pay it and bring the contractor to small claims court. That will send a strong message!

The Author

George Hannan is enjoying retired life in northern Portugal with his partner Tania. They prioritise healthy, active lives mainly through hiking and cycling in the beautiful Portuguese countryside. George is a keen reader. He also enjoys writing and blogging about health, activity and lifestyle, relating to people in their mature years.

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