WASHINGTON, August 22, 2014 — Some time ago, the owner of a modest-sized manufacturing company in Titusville, PA had to lay off most of his workers. Apparently, the chain of events leading to this layoff started when a Cuban official called to place a rather large order that the small business owner gleefully accepted.
A handful of his employees reminded their boss that there was an embargo against Cuba. But he reassured his workers that the order was legitimate.
The order was legitimate, but the boss quickly learned he was, in fact, not permitted to ship his products to the shunned island nation, but only after his employees had finished the entire order. Because the order employed a custom design, the small business owner had to instruct his employees to throw away several hundred thousand dollars worth of material. If he did not already own an established business, this would have ruined him.
This business owner struggled to cope with such a significant loss for some time, while his relatively low-paid employees had to make do with their unemployment benefits until they were called back to work.
The moral of the story: all businesses should focus on a couple of key lessons. One man’s mistake is another man’s opportunity to avoid a mistake.
It is tempting to automatically say that the Federal government got in the way of this business owner and present the most basic deregulation argument as a solution in order to cater to business interests. But if one recalls the history behind the Cuban Missile Crisis and the embargo against Cuba that originated back in the 1960s, the Cuban embargo policy was put in place for legitimate reasons. Communist revolutionary forces first seized US property interests; and then the USSR used Cuba as a staging ground to point nuclear weapons at the United States.
Due to this well-known and longstanding Cuban embargo, this businessman’s costly mistake cannot rationally be blamed on government.
Whether one agrees with the continuation of the Cuban embargo, theoretically until Castro’s regime withers away, or whether one favors a loosening of sanctions to better reflect the realities of the modern world, this Federal policy is law and has been law for over fifty years. This business owner has an education and was old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. Consequently, he made a serious mistake that he should not have made.
For those who do not believe political science is a useful field of academic study, this is the very reason schools need to ensure students attain a very robust understanding of the social and political sciences.
Considering the globalized nature of the world, especially when it comes to business, this scenario exemplifies why it is important for all Americans to pay attention to what is going on inside and outside of the United States.
American workers have varying degrees of education. But few workers are actually able to fully make use of their educational experiences in their places of work. One reason is that employers do not take advantage of their workers’ broad base of knowledge and skills as in the case discussed here.
The culture from which this businessman as well as this writer hails often discourages workers from improving the workplace by contributing unsolicited, creative thinking and problem solving to a given corporate situation. In fact, in many companies today, it is often considered disrespectful or insubordinate to ask questions concerning management or corporate direction.
Although the businessman in question was open to his employees voicing their opinions, he did not fully consider the value of their input. Had he investigated the warnings of his employees, he would not have made such a costly mistake. A businessman can rarely predict where a good idea will originate. So a wise man will listen carefully to anyone willing to share his or her thoughts and make final decisions that are hedged by the knowledge that he could be wrong.