Desperately seeking business ethics

Today I received a cheque in the mail from a customer. Great, right? Well, it would have been great 172 days ago, when I issued the invoice. It would have even been good 127 days ago, when it was due. However, my deadbeat customer decided to pay their invoice more than four months late.I have the temptation to tell the whole story, but I don’t think that there’s that much space on my server. To make a long story short, a large management consulting/systems integration firm — I don’t want to name names, but let’s assume that they are the spawn of one of the former big accounting firms — used my resume on a proposal to score a deal with a customer, hired me to work on a long-term contract, then breached my contract after two months. (They were within their rights to terminate the contract; it’s just that they did it with only two weeks notice instead of the required 30 days.)

The termination was bad enough, although I had plenty of other work and I wasn’t going to miss the weekly trips to Winnipeg, but then they stopped paying my invoices. Their excuse? When they centralized and replaced their accounts payable system back in April, they forgot to set up their Canadian suppliers. And it took them four months to sort out the mess. Yeah, right. Meanwhile, my one-person consulting company bankrolled them for $45,000 of unpaid invoices, when they were presumably paid by the customer months before. After no less than 100 emails and phone calls, “apologies” from the managing director, excuse after excuse, the payments finally started coming in: most of them last week, and one last cheque (funnily enough, for the oldest invoice) today.

What bothers me about all this is the complete lack of business ethics exhibited by a large and well-respected corporation. Call me naive, but what could they possibly gain by decreasing the quality of work on a customer project by removing the primary design resource? Or cheating a small subcontractor out of two weeks work on a multi-million dollar contract by giving insufficient termination notice, and thereby risking a lawsuit? Or pretending that their accounting system was so screwed up that they were unable to pay me, wasting a huge amount of their own time in responding to my persistent inquiries? You know that if they’re treating me like that, they’re also fucking over their employees, customers and partners, because corporate culture comes through in most of a company’s actions.

However, now that the final cheque has arrived, it’s a relief to take that reminder out of Outlook, and not spend some time each day stressed over whether they are going to pay or not, and when. Now I can get down the to business of suing them.