The (Not So) Sweet Taste of Revenge

Instead of retaliating, take the anger and turn it into positive energy.

I recently came across an article touting the top 10 revenge stories in sports. There was the story of LeBron James besting the Golden State Warriors to bring a title to Cleveland in 2016 after the Warriors ruined the same opportunity the year before.

Also included was Tom Brady’s NFL Super Bowl victory in the year he sat out for four games because of the deflated football “scandal” now affectionately known as “Deflategate.”

The revenge story of Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Quarterback Brett Favre was the one that stung most for me. I have vivid memories of Favre’s “unretirement” and ultimate inclusion on the roster of the Green Bay division rival, Minnesota Vikings.  Favre returned to Lambeau Field four games into the 2009 season and threw for three touchdowns on his way to a win over my beloved Green Bay Packers.  As much as I loved Favre during his time as a Packer, I wasn’t sure I would ever forgive him.

Revenge can be so sweet; it’s such a great motivator and leads to amazing outcomes, except when it doesn’t.

Consider the owner of a contract machining operation who learns that his best customer, a high profile company that he was proud to serve, had decided to move their book of business to a competitor.  Once the nausea subsides and he gathers his senses, anger rises in his veins.  The thought of his arch nemesis celebrating the spoils of victory is almost unbearable.  “I’ll show them,” he resolves.  He throws significant energy into stealing one of his competitor’s key customers and eventually he succeeds.  Never mind that he had to slash his standard margin to win the business, and that the resulting financial impact to his company is almost breakeven—he has exacted his revenge. That will teach ‘em.

A metals supplier learns that a key employee has jumped ship to a competitive company.  In her exit interview, she explains that she didn’t see enough upward mobility in her current position and that the company’s culture had become somewhat toxic over the last year.  The employer, disappointed at first, smiles to himself.  Clearly the employee has forgotten about the non-compete agreement she signed when she came on board.  The ensuing lawsuit, against the former employee and her new employer, distracts the former employer from growing their business for well over a year.  Ultimately, he succeeds in winning a small judgement.  Sweet revenge.

For years a contract CNC company has had an understanding with one in the next state over.  You stay out of our backyard, and we’ll stay out of yours.  But the other company’s next generation of leadership doesn’t see it that way, and suddenly it is learned that several jobs have been lost to them.  So when a potential customer in the next state calls and asks for a competitive bid, the opportunity for revenge has presented itself.  Forget for the moment that the potential customer requires parts to be delivered at no charge, requires special packaging and handling not expected of their current supplier, and all at a lower price than what they currently incur.  Forget all this.  The new competitor must be taught a lesson, and the opportunity is now.

Operate a business long enough and eventually one will feel wronged.  By a departing employee, a buyer trying to earn a bonus by moving the work currently done for their company, by a competitor who steals a customer.  The majority of the time I have seen a business leader seek vengeance (and admittedly the times I have attempted to exact revenge myself), it does not end well.  For the price paid in return, in the form of lower margins and the distraction that costs us other opportunities, is generally higher than the benefit of revenge.

Much better than retaliating is to take the anger, the hurt and the resentment and turn it into positive energy.  Focus on improving service to customers, building a welcoming culture and driving down cost, which in part, enables competitive pricing.   When you do so, customers and employees want to stay, and isn’t that the sweetest revenge of all?

What’s more, time has a way of easing the need for retribution. For more than a quarter century, I’ve experienced my share of anger and rage over business situations, all of which were eventually swallowed up and smoothed over with time.

Heck, when the Green Bay Packers retired Favre’s number in 2015, I cheered with just about every other Packer fan.  If I could get over Favre’s betrayal I can get over just about anything.