The Principal Principle

I recently had a dream in which my brother and I were talking and laughing with our Dad. It was a surreal time because my Dad died in 1988. As we met together and I was reveling in the presence of two men I dearly love, a thought came to me. I caught my Dad's attention and said, "Dad, do you know what I just realized?"

He asked, "No, Son. What?"

I replied, "It just hit me. I'm older than you!"

My father died before he had the chance to grow old. Cigarettes and the loss of my little sister at the age of 35 broke his body and his spirit. Any good psychiatrist could probably tell that having a dream with such a theme means I'm thinking about my own mortality.

There are people who think one's belief system has little impact on their business life. Those folks couldn't be more mistaken. In college I worked to support my growing family at McKee Baking Company. Among other foods, they are the company that makes Little Debbie Snack Cakes. McKee's is the largest independently owned bakery in the United States.

During my years as a student employee at McKee's, one of my duties involved delivering mail between Plant #1 and Plant #2. On Sunday's, I often had the privilege of meeting Mr. O.D. McKee (owner, CEO and founder) in his office. He was gracious enough to converse with me as I brought him his mail. He received dozens of requests for project funds every week and sometimes daily. He accepted this phenomenon as a matter of life when you have such incredible resources.

Mr. McKee and I spoke of the beginnings of his business and how it had become such a behemoth. He had been involved in his inlaws' cookie business, retired, and then decided to begin McKee Baking Company. He was determined to live by beliefs he held essential. One of those was keeping the Fourth of the Ten Commandments. That command of God was for His people not to work on the seventh day. I will avoid any attempt to win disciples in this article, but after a thorough study of the Bible, Mr. McKee joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church and kept the Sabbath. Since Christ rose on Sunday, the first day of the week, the Adventists found the seventh day to be the one just before it; Saturday.

When his colleagues and friends learned that he intended to shut down his business on the Sabbath, nearly all predicted ruin. He was told, "Shutting the ovens down and bringing them back on line will mean constant repair." Others scolded, "You'll go broke within a year. Nobody can have a successful business and compete if they send everyone home and shut down once a week."

Standing in a well-appointed office with the smiling gray haired man, I was struck with a wonderful lesson. Mr. McKee had been prepared for failure in business. However, he was not prepared to fail as a man. Because he stood by his principles, both he and his business thrived.

I have seen so very many business people who seemed to be hollowed out shells. They had lost themselves somewhere in all the compromising they felt was essential to survive. It isn't ignoring principles that wears a person down. It's when you know that right thing to do and don't do it that chips away at your soul. My recommendation? Make sure of your principles and try your best to live by them.

Some day when you look back over your shoulder, I hope you'll see the tracks of a person who lived by principles. As you work, you will have times of failure and times of success. While your business may be thriving, ask yourself, "Am I thriving?" That is the principal principle.

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