Owner May Not Know or Care About Business Going Under

Q: I closed my own business and took a full-time job with a privately-owned company many years ago. People don’t realize how much work it takes to run a business, and I wanted to do the work I liked without all the other work that was required in running it. I also wanted the security in working for an established, at least medium-sized business.

Other than word-of-mouth when I applied, I couldn’t really find out a lot about the business. I had heard the owner took a lot of money out of it to live a flashy, jet-set lifestyle. The business had been very successful for about 40 years, so I didn’t see anything wrong with that. Unfortunately, in the recent past he had made some very bad hires — lazy, unmotivated workers. Though people complained about them, he liked them (they knew how to brown-nose him) and refused to fire them.

More unfortunately, he turned into an absentee owner, thinking the business would run just fine without him. The bad work ethics spread to other employees since everyone knew the owner wasn’t going to do anything about it. They acted as if the free ride was going to last forever. That unprofessionalism combined with a tougher economy has brought the business down within the past two years. We receive our paychecks regularly, but we’ve learned that the business has not and cannot pay its vendors. Without our vendors, there is no business.

The staff has stopped working and spends everyday socializing with each other or on the phones. The owner continues to take money out of the company and continues to live a wealthy life. He never comes into the office, so he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that nobody is working.

I expect one day to come to the office and find the doors locked with a posted sign that says “Closed”. This makes no sense to me. The owner is 70 years old and had a booming business all his life. He has let it go under where he can’t even sell it now.

I don’t know whether to join my co-workers in the day-to-day, laissez-faire attitude or to write our absentee owner and tell him what is going on here. It’s hard to believe he has knowingly let this happen. He’s 70 years old and obviously doesn’t want to be involved with business anymore, but does letting it fall apart make sense?

A: Living a high lifestyle when one’s business is making money makes sense. Being an absentee business owner and trusting employees to run the business doesn’t. It’s not clear whether he handles the books or has turned over control to a financial person, though it sounds like the latter. Since the owner is known for his high lifestyle, it’s understandable that he would continue it as long as he thinks he has money coming in.

Regardless of who is in charge of the books, you have nothing to lose by writing the owner directly. He must care about people because he refused to fire employees he liked. Appeal to his sense of responsibility to the many employees counting on their jobs to support themselves and their families. If he feels secure and doesn’t care about the company’s future (which defies common sense and reality), not paying employees’ salaries will be the next step before the company’s descent into bankruptcy.

He may be 70 and tired of working, but if he lives another 10 to 20 years, he could regret being that absentee owner who naively trusted others to run his business. Instead of worrying about his business, feverishly work on your resume and cover letters, and contact previous bosses and coworkers to renew acquaintances.

Email all your questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at LindseyNovak@yahoo.com. She answers all emails. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM