21 Lessons small business owners everywhere can learn from the untimely death of an 85 year old, profitable till year 84 company.

On May 29, 2008 Bear Stearns turned itself into history. It is also part of her-story — mine. Back in 1976, I was recommended to work at the Bear, never thought I’d get the job, and yet the Bear took a major risk of hiring me (it was 1976, I’m a “girl,” you know; back then, women working at trading desk was an enigma – even in NYC.).

Ace Greenberg was the Chairman then and he always said that the reason for the company’s success was that the foundation of the company was heavily invested in all the PSDs it hired while the companies around them were hiring MBAs. (PSD’s stands for Poor, Smart employees with a deep Desire to get rich!) It didn’t matter what college – if any - you attended (like me, most of the traders I worked with back then had started working right out of high school).

I don’t know how or when the phase “our word is our bond” came into existence, but that was the way we worked back then using a business model based in trust. That was the way the better companies were run and it is a truly amazing way run a business, some of us still do. Sad to say that like many other things in life, that is changing, too.

So here’s my Top 21 list of where Bear Stearns got off-track – lessons to be learned for all.

1. Don’t ignore problems—or your former Chairman’s advice.
2. You must be ready to make changes at a moment’s notice; forget the status quo.
3. Successful people do rise to the level of their incompetency — in a company and in general.
4. Unfortunately, past successes — even 85 years worth of never having a bad quarter isn’t a guarantee of future successes.
5. The drugs you did in the 70s will come back to haunt you — if you are still doing them in the 21st century.
6. Really listen to those who have wisely supported you in the past and never run them over.
7. NEVER put all your investment eggs in one basket — be it your employees’ pension plans, your company’s money, marketing etc.
8. Saving paper clips is a good thing. Expenses both small and large are important to monitor.
9. Don’t let your phone ring more than once — you may lose business.
10. Management must live by the company’s values, each and every day.
11. Sometimes the worst person to run a company is the person running it.
12. Without integrity, you have no brand and no company.
13. You can fill a company’s management with college educated folks and still end up with a dumb company.
14. You must be quick to make changes when change is overdue.
15. A company can have 17 billion dollars one day and go bankrupt a few days later.
16. CEO’s can get out of touch with their companies, the business may quickly deteriorate, and in fact, you may be the cause of it self-destructing.
17. Before making decisions, think about the lives you’re responsible for -- be it employees, stock holders and the like.
18. If your decisions cause thousands upon thousands of loyal employees and the businesses they frequent to loose their jobs, life savings, and deplete their retirement accounts, it’s not enough to say that you’re sorry for what happened and then blame outside sources (like a hurricane) for what you’ve done.
19. Saving jobs is more important than saving face. Johnson & Johnson knew this years ago when someone tainted Tylenol and the executives at Bear should have, too.
20. Company policies, written or not, are there for good reason. If the company mantra is to own up to your mistake and sell something that’s not making money — it shouldn’t take you months to do that while the company looses the trust of it’s clients, investors and employees.
21. Loyal, skillful employees don’t disappear – they end up at firms looking for the best employees (or owning their own companies).

Goodbye Bear Stearns. I’m sorry to see you go. You touched many lives – including mine. You will be missed.

Additional Reading:
Wall Street Journal, Kate Kelly journalist

Author's Bio: 

(c) 2008 Maria Marsala, founder of Elevating Your Business, a business managment company that focuses on helping financial and service industry independent professionals and small business owners get more. More money, more client, more quality free time. Claim your copy of MORE Business at www.ElevatingYourBusiness.com/free/