In 1922 James Drummond Dole bought virtually all of the island of Lanai in Hawaii for $1.1 million. In an article in the New York Times, “Larry Ellison Bought an Island in Hawaii. Now What?”, John Mooallen relates how Lanai came to be owned by a succession of billionaire businessmen, most recently Ellison. The underlying thesis throughout the article focuses on the relationship between owners and residents and the ability of the owners to make a successful venture.
Historically, Dole has been the most successful to date—the jury is still out on Ellison, he’s only owned Lanai for a couple of years. Dole managed to rebuild the infrastructure, provide housing for his workers, and run a successful pineapple operation for 70 years until cheap overseas pineapple production did him in. During those 70 years he was successful by tending not only to his crops but to his workers as well: “Have happy workers, grow better pineapples.”
One of the Emily Post business etiquette tenets is the importance of fostering a pleasant work environment. That importance flows from a commitment right from the top that recognizes how you treat employees is critical to a business’s success. Repeatedly in this column, I’ve answered people’s questions that essentially ask, “I love my job but I hate my boss. What do I do?” Whereas in times past people put up with the irascible boss and stuck with their job, in today’s work world people are more and more willing to walk when they aren’t treated respectfully.
Part of a commitment to the pleasant work environment is a sincerity in that commitment. Dole’s simple words conveyed sincerity, but his actions over time were the real foundation of the success of his management style and his company for those 70 years.
What was fascinating about Mooallen’s article was the seeming sincerity in the initial meetings that bespoke a real commitment to growing the island. At the first community meeting Mooallen writes that Kurt Matsumoto, the new CEO of Pulama Lanai (Ellison’s management company for Lanai), , “used words like ‘respect’ and ‘empower,’ ‘sharing’ and ‘investing.’” Words alone are just words. To be effective they need to be followed up with action. Otherwise, they become insincere and once that insincerity is perceived, it leads to a loss of trust. Ultimately, business, any business, is built on trust. When you have it, you can be successful. But if you lose trust, success is much harder to achieve and regaining trust is difficult.
And those are the dangerous waters Pulama Lanai is wading into. Mooallen points out, “There was a growing awareness that Pulama’s rhetoric of openness and collaboration didn’t always match its actions.” Match your words with consistent actions and people will trust you. For the people of Lanai, the hope is that the words and the actions will become congruent.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.