Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trust – A Lubricant in Human Relations

Everywhere in our human society, trust works as a psychological link between us. Were there no trust, an individual would become more defensive and exploitative for sure. In The Harvard Business Review’s “Take the Money—or Run?” the gas and oil pipeline startup Petrolink is pressed for the decision of whether or not they will make a deal with a Polish VC firm, BRX Capital. BRX’s offer looked very attractive to Petrolink’s founders, Robert, Karl, and Nigel. Nonetheless, after having witnessed BRX’s deceptive alterations to the antidilution clause, those founders came to see BRX as untrustworthy. The deal with BRX is risky enough to harm this startup business by creating ethical issues, involving them with the East European politics, and even messing up the founders’ relationships.

Even though BRX has not confessed, it is obvious that they are trying to take advantage of the deal. They, furthermore, did not ask Petrolink a barrage of questions as the other VC firm, London Development Partners, did, meaning that BRX is not interested in a deeper commitment to Petrolink. These facts implied that it is quite hard to build win-win relationships. Some may say that trust is a mutual pipeline between stakeholders for which everyone should be equally responsible. The thinner the “pipeline” is, the slower the communication flows. A weaker link of trust will result in a leak of profit. Petrolink must have a sturdy and thick connection as LDP is trying to make.

Apart from the ethical viewpoint, as the commentator Charalambos Vlachoutsicos points out, the gas pipeline industry in Eastern Europe has complicated political aspects. Due to the historical importance of the strategy on raw materials in terms of national defense, Petrolink’s new gas pipeline will attract “more attention from governments,” including Russia and Gazprom. Robert and other board members must sniff BRX’s real intentions and figure out who has been pulling the strings in this deal. Petrolink would have very little chance to win this psychological warfare against the experienced, crafty competitor.

The deal with BRX will also likely lead to a rupture in relations between Petrolink’s founders. Each founder has a different background; Robert has experience in several jobs as CEO, while Karl and Nigel are familiar with the oil and gas industry. Robert is scrupulous about BRX’s behavior, whereas the other are more or less obsessed by their job security. When their interests diverge, Petrolink will naturally break up. Therefore, it is time for them to discuss Petrolink’s ideology again. If their business is not distinctive enough, they should return to their old jobs since it will be swallowed by another competitor, as Karl worries.

To avoid tremendous undisclosed risks, Petrolink must not make the deal with BRX. This Polish firm seemingly has hidden agendas, which will harm and eventually culminate Petrolink’s adventurous business. The founders also need to be aware of political stakes. They will never overestimate the clout of Party members. Trust among the founders’ team, in addition, is essential for their success. The deal with BRX might demoralize Robert, causing a rift between the founders. The other firm, LDP, seems more reliable, but it will require more time to brew trust towards each other. Far before building actual gas pipelines, Petrolink needs to construct heart-to-heart pipelines between stakeholders, which facilitate and accelerate their business like a good lubricant.