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The Handshake Deal: The Heart of How Business is Won

I recently turned forty. It makes you think back on your career and the people who came before you.  I think about the stories I heard about three-martini lunches and handshake deals.  I can think of the handshake deals in my career and how it felt to have someone trust you without a 57-page document where everyone is trying to cover themselves from risk.

Examples of Handshake Deals

The first handshake deal was early in my career.  I went to a lumber mill in North Carolina.  I was talking with the owner about relining a wood chip boiler.  I told the owner that if I could get a purchase order, I would order the materials and start the project in two weeks.  He said, “I will shake your hand, and when you finish, I will write you a check for the work.” This was a different way of doing business than most customers, and I liked it.

I had also seen the other side of a handshake deal.  I was a sub-contractor for a European owned company, with a United States representative, that was negotiating a project with another European owned company. It was a $700,000 deal, and they were discussing terms.  The company said they would issue a PO to the European company, but the representative said, if you shake my hand, that is good enough for me, and I will get started.  The parent companies will discuss terms in Europe.  I was in charge of the installation for this project.  During the project, the scope changed, and instead of doing the right thing and allowing revision to price, they went back to the negotiated terms.  This was not ideal and soured the relationship between the two companies.

If you look at the previous two stories, they are very different.  Times have changed, and 57-page terms and conditions documents are just getting longer.  However, one thing has not changed. I believe in a handshake deal and doing what you say you are going to do.  Even if it costs money, your company and your reputation is your most important thing in business. 

Trust in Today’s World

An excellent example of trust is happening now—people’s view on whether to trust the Presidential election results.  Half the people trust the outcome, and half the people think there is fraudulent activity.  It does not leave a good taste in anyone’s mouth and divides us further as a country.  It can do the same in business if people do not trust you. 

Trust has helped Onex be in business for 54 years with long-term, trusted partners.  We are committed to our customers’ success, which allows both companies to grow and prosper.  I believe a handshake is a symbol of trust and will continue to be, even if it is only an elbow bump now due to a worldwide pandemic.

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