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An epithet hung around my neck (and probably to be inscribed on my tombstone) is that I am/was too nice. Not said as a compliment but as a character flaw. Nice, according to some, is a state in which I am ripe for the taking. Taken by the not-so-nice, a target.

My defense is I love tourist traps. Yes, I buy the inflated price of a cheap t-shirt saying. ‘Muana kedo mungo mungo,’ in a blaze of florescent colors but I had a really nice chat with the seller (a 14 year-old working weekends at her parent’s stall and is doing well in math and geography but not so well in chemistry and English grammar and is somewhat overshadowed by her older brother who has a talent for writing and, yes, she will on my advice, learn a word a day but what she would really like is an iPod).

I am too nice. I had a business partner who thought lambasting employees was the way to get them motivated; I bought the staff a commercial Bunn coffee machine so they would not have to cross the street to get coffee. My partner sneered. Eventually he threw up his hands and left. Know what he said? “Michael, you’re too nice.” My employees stayed: we had the lowest turnover in the industry.

My estimate is three percent of customers you can’t be nice to. Don’t even try. The ninety-seven percent remaining, well, they also suffer from nice. I guess that’s their character flaw.

So what is nice? Being pleasant? Sure but more than that. Being accepting is maybe better. I taught all of my employees to treat someone in a first meeting as if they had already met them (and liked them). It works.

But to many being nice is to be a doormat. I don’t care. I have this return: cheat me and I never come back. I have refined this to ‘under no circumstances, none whatsoever, do you cheat a customer’. I built companies on that.

So am I really nice when I will never darken some companies ever again? Again, I don’t care.

In all my years running companies I have realized being nice doesn’t cost me a penny but has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Laughter may be the best medicine but being nice means I can ease my way. So I am told I am too nice – I consider the alternative and, no, I ain’t going there.

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