Rule 1 in Business

Treat Everyone with Respect (Whitey Bulger May Be Your Neighbor)

by | Nov 24, 2014

My first neighbor in Santa Monica, CA was notorious Boston crimelord and former #1 on the FBI’s most wanted list, Whitey Bulgar.

While Whitey was on the lam from the FBI, he used a Santa Monica apartment building as “cover”. During the twelve months I spent at the apartment, I saw my neighbor only a couple of times and had absolutely no clue who he was.

I was always cordial and nice, even though I thought it somewhat odd that he had a sign on his door that said “Don’t Knock.” Years later the national news made a sensation out of the FBI catching Whitey at that building.

The moral of the story? Be nice – you really don’t want to get on the bad side of your neighbors because maybe their bad side is really, really bad.

Rule #1 in the Business World

This approach has an immediate, relevant, and profound impact on business development.

If a Handbook of Business Development Rules existed, Rule #1 would state: “Be kind, courteous, and respectful to everyone.”


From a person-to-person standpoint, it is just the right thing to do. It’s the golden rule.

For business though, it is critical because you really never know what’s to come. You never know when the associate is on the verge of a break-through deal and makes partner. You never know if the assistant is the earpiece for the executive and serves as a filter on which meetings to take in the future.

The Exception to the Rule

An important caveat to Rule #1 is that you need to balance this with time considerations.

Even the most prolific among us cannot possibly get to know everyone. Luckily, it doesn’t take very long to make a lasting impression.

Anyone who has worked a job at the bottom of the food chain knows how it feels when someone “looks-right-through-you” and fails to acknowledge your very existence. It sucks, it’s dehumanizing, and it is a poor way to go through life.

Personal Connections Pay Dividends

One of the most memorable times this was beneficial to our business was at a conference. I was lost and looking for the main room, so I asked one of the hotel staff.

She pointed me in the direction, and then introduced herself. “Hi, my name is Diane.”

I shook her hand, told her my name, and then asked her if she liked it when conferences were in town. The whole exchange took less than 20 seconds.

Hours later, I was in desperation mode looking for the #1 person I wanted to connect with at the conference. I had seen him leaving the main room after he spoke, but then he disappeared.

As I entered the hallway, I saw Diane. She could tell I was a bit flustered looking around. I asked her if she had seen the guy in the gray jacket. “Sure,” she said, “he’s right over here, follow me…”

Diane saved the day.

The speaker had dived into a side room to catch up on emails, and thanks to Diane, we had an opportunity to get to know each other, which ultimately led to a significant win-win deal for us.

But for my brief introduction to Diane, there is almost no chance this would have happened.

A 100% Sure Thing

Does this deliver results every time? Of course not.

Nothing in business works 100% of the time. There are always outliers and exceptions to the rules.

But when you’re seeking to initiate relationships, you never know where or how the right connection will emerge. Treat people as you would like to be treated, and open doorways that wouldn’t otherwise exist.