Should I turn it down?
Greetings from Croatia! I have been following your podcasts since 2015. I have recommended them to many people already and will continue to do so, because I think your work really adds value. It has influenced my life and some of my most important decisions in life already, in a spectacular way.
Recently, I have been planning certain business projects with some people. In one of the most recent discussions with them, a friend who has more capital than I have, proposed that I become a director of his firm which is supposed to employ delivery partners, that is couriers for major online delivery startups.
Without going into much detail how this can benefit my long-term career, there is one concern that brings me nightmares. One of my other friends, whom I am thankful for helping me find a job as a courier when I lost my previous job as a stockbroker in a bank due to covid-19-influenced lockdowns, has started his own firm that employs couriers. This means if I accept an opportunity to become a director in this line of business, I would compete directly with him.
I have been thinking about it and I see two negative outcomes right now. One is that I will very likely lose one friend because I will have to compete against him in the same business, which does seem to me as a betrayal since it will force me to use all the information he has given me so far against him. The other one is much less obvious, but I might lose reputation in a catholic business network, a very ambitious and useful group of people which I consider very important for my private and professional development, because my friend is also a part of this group and interacts with others just as I do.
Based on the wisdom and experience you have, I kindly ask you to give me advice. Are my concerns justified and how could I possibly resolve this issue?
Thanks for your help!
We are thrilled with the growing numbers of Happy Warriors in Croatia, and we appreciate your help in spreading the word about our podcast and website. We also appreciate your proper concern that this career offer presents you with a serious moral dilemma and personal challenge.
Our quick reply is that you should (probably quite painfully) turn down this opportunity. Now, we would like to take the time to explain why this is so.
People frequently confuse cause and effect. We watch a new law being enacted and congratulate ourselves on living in an advanced culture triumphantly moving forward on a just path. Frequently, however, the new law instead reflects the downfall of culture; something that used to be commonly accepted now needs to be stated.
Here is an example. One of the great rabbis of the Middle Ages whose works are still studied today is Rabbeinu (our rabbi) Gershom, who lived in Germany c. 960 -1040. Rabbeinu Gershom instituted a ruling prohibiting anyone from opening mail addressed to another person. What an advance! Not exactly. Valuing and protecting privacy and personal property is a core Torah principle. The fact that it needed to be declared as a ruling was proof that people were no longer observing that long-held cultural and religious understanding. The necessity for the law showed a failure, a regression rather than progress.
Companies today often require those they hire to sign a non-compete statement. The worker agrees that upon severing the relationship with the company, for a certain period of time, he will not do certain activities. These might include setting up a rival company, accepting a position with a rival company, or working in a similar business within a certain geographical area. The details vary based on the type of business and the worker’s position. The fact that this needs to be spelled out reflects a lack of confidence that an individual’s conscience and faith will lead him to act correctly without a contract.
Your friend shared his knowledge and experience with you. He did not make you sign a non-compete because his help was based on relationship, not law. We think that were you to accept the position you are being offered, you would feel yourself to be a smaller person, and indeed, making yourself into one. And yes, the Catholic business community of which you are part and which emanates an aura of respectability and trustworthiness will possibly see you as not worthy of being one of them.
Evil will never depart from the house of him who repays good with evil. (Proverbs 17:13) While there are many circumstances in which you could morally compete with the company that educated you such as, for instance, where you paid for an apprenticeship and the company declined to hire you or where any first offer of refusal was not exercised, your case is perfectly described in Solomon’s ringing denunciation. You must decline the offer but with the following steps.
You should sit down with both parties separately. Explain to your friend about your offer and why you are turning it down. Reassure him that you are telling him not to make him feel guilty in any way at all but to let him know how much you cherish his friendship and how much you appreciate what he did for you. Then meet with and explain to the person who made you the attractive offer your reason for turning it down. The man who wants to employ you should understand how much you value his offer. It is possible that one or perhaps both of these parties may respond with ideas that surprise you. Most importantly, you will smile at yourself in the mirror.
Much business used to be (and some still is) conducted with a handshake rather than with a legal tome. Contracts are wonderful, but the need for more specifics and more words reflects a failing of society, not a success. May God bless you with prosperity as becomes a man of integrity.
Please stay in touch,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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