Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on June 7, 2021.
In April 2019, I wrote about my experience taking on a challenging assignment that pushed me outside my comfort zone. That experience also taught me that being transparent and factual with federal agencies can be a great benefit to getting the result you want.
Early in my career, my company sued a large French multinational chemical company, accusing them of dumping product in the U.S. at below their home market price, taking market share from my company. I was my company’s business manager for that product.
The attorney retained by our company’s general counsel insisted that my product manager and I be the individuals to present the case, with his guidance. He told us that the five commissioners of the International Trade Commission would be more lenient with us on court procedures than if he presented our case.
The hearing in front of the ITC accomplished the substance and optics of what our attorney wanted – to pit a small, privately-owned, domestic company against a foreign company many times our size competing illegally through product pricing that met the criteria of dumping.
Over a period of months in preparation for the hearing in front of the ITC, we responded to questions from the ITC investigative staff. In order to determine if dumping was occurring, the staff asked for significant details about competition within the marketplace to ensure that the commissioners had the information needed to understand the dynamics of the market.
Whenever we realized that we had provided information to the ITC staff that was inaccurate, we immediately corrected it, even if it hurt our case. Our honesty and transparency with the staff built our credibility with them.
A pivotal moment occurred at the ITC hearing when the French company’s attorneys misrepresented a meeting their clients had with us, accusing us of improper marketplace behavior. The chair of the ITC asked if they had notes of that meeting. They did not.
As I was listening to their mischaracterizations, I whispered to our attorney that we had notes of that meeting, which countered their testimony. He asked me to pull the notes, and as he read them, a smile crossed his face.
Our meeting notes, entered into evidence, undermined much of the French company’s credibility. The reaction by the ITC commissioners was priceless.
When the ITC commissioners announced their decision, they unanimously found in favor of my company. They assessed the highest dumping duty on any chemical imported into the U.S. to date. My product manager and I felt as if we had won gold medals at the Olympics.
So, what did we learn from this experience? Whether you are dealing with customers or the investigative staff of a federal agency, you develop credibility with those you deal with by always being honest and factual. This will differentiate you from those who aren’t. Credibility builds trust and confidence, and this will favor you in borderline decisions. We also learned to operate under pressure and to get out of our comfort zone.
Leaders, expose your employees to new, meaningful experiences. Insist that they be trustworthy, honest and credible. It will give you a significant advantage, whether competing in the marketplace or dealing with a federal agency.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.