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Special Events

Tough Questions, On-Target Answers

His catering business was in poor shape, but he wasn't sure what to do about it. He asked Special Events Magazine for help.

Another reader, with an extensive background in catering and special events, took on the challenge of exploring what was wrong and how to address the problems.

Because of the sensitive nature of the issues involved, the identities of our participants are confidential. But the incidents below are true.


“I'm depressed and always getting sick from the stress in this business that I have been doing for the last 20 years. Please know that you would be doing a very good deed if you could provide me with some insight as to how I could walk away with a reasonable return on my investment.”


The man's business was declining, and the profits were way down. New capital was scarce. Even worse, his business partner was acting very odd. The man knew that something was definitely wrong. It appeared the business and its partners were heading toward a dead end.

Special Events Magazine put the man in touch with a former member of our Advisory Board, who agreed to contact him and explore his problems. Her response follows:


“Be realistic, not emotional. It appears you need to take an honest look at what has and is happening instead of thinking it will just get better with time. It is time that has done this and, quite frankly, you need to stop kidding yourself about what is apparently a soon-to-be disaster if you do not take action immediately.

“These are harsh words to read for the person asking for help, and certainly more optimistic than consoling. But then, I have always been an optimist. It is a lot more beneficial to everyone and nearly every situation if you are.

“Spend one hour on the phone with me and we will work together in sending you off in the better direction.”


The two event professionals arranged a teleconference. And for over an hour, they talked.


“I listened and listened, taking notes. For nearly 20 years, his business partner had taken advantage of him and the business. His partner had always painted a bleaker picture of the position of the company than was actually the case, trying to keep more for himself than his share of the 50/50 agreement so many business partners have.

“It was so obvious to me what to do. But then again, I was a perfect stranger, and not the depressed individual on the other end of the phone in the trenches of this big mess.

“Then it was my turn to ask a few questions. Some of the questions stung. I knew the answers would be painful. We went through several difficult moments, but when we arrived at the obvious answer to the real problem, I could hear a huge, long sigh of relief on the other end of the call.

“He told me, ‘That's what I have thought for years, but just did not want to face it. I just kept thinking that my partner of 20 years would be fair and ethical with me as I had been with him. I let him handle all of the money, never asking any questions. Even when one of our key employees accidentally tipped me off to something very unusual, I still declined to face reality. I knew I was not being honest with myself about what was really going on. I really believed he had the same good and fair intentions towards me as I had for him. Sometimes I think I have really deserved all of this.’

“I told him, ‘No one deserves what has happened to you. Yet, it happens all of the time. It is called ‘trust,’ and the breaching of that trust can be disastrous. But that absolutely does not mean you have to continue with the situation, not for another minute. But you must be realistic, not emotional.

“I gave him the five-minute version of problems with my own ex-business partner and the drastic action I had to take to save my mind and spirit, let alone my company, a few years back. Funny — we both laughed at how blind we were to the obvious.

“We related to the problem and the resolution of the problem because I had been there myself. This industry is filled with trusting individuals. After all, we trust those we work with and those vendors we hire to do what they say they will. Most of the time we all succeed together. But then there are those horror stories like this one.”


Based upon his conversations with our expert, the caterer came to the decision that there was only one answer: He would part ways with his partner on amicable terms, no matter what. A tough choice to make, and hardly the return on investment he had hoped so for long. But his decision was made, and he was happy to have found that he had known what to do all along … even if it meant walking away from 20 years' work.


“It means the start of the next 20 years, with a life and business lesson under his belt. Costly? By all means. But less costly than continuing with a losing battle. In his mind, he had won. He made a decision to move forward, instead of marching in time and getting nowhere.

“Trust again? You bet. With a few new business safeguards in place including accountability and responsibility added to that trust. Sound business advice for anyone in business today.

“I received an e-mail update the other day with lots of positive attitude and optimism in its message. He was already making a lot of progress both personally and professionally. His spirit had returned. The e-mail read: ‘Be well, my new friend. I cannot begin to thank you for all your support and advice. I'll be back in touch.’ It brought tears to my eyes.

“I am glad I answered that call for help.”

If you want to pose a question or help provide an answer for a future article in Special Events Magazine, contact editor Lisa Hurley at 800/543-4116 or 310/317-4522, ext. 261, or via e-mail at [email protected].

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