When the little guys bulk up to payback bad treatment
Sometimes, small enterprises don't always stay that way and have long memories on theway up, so HK's bully-boy landlords take note
One thing you can confidently say about Hong Kong's biggest landlords is that they are pretty consistent. They rarely, if ever, admit to fault and behave towards their smaller customers in a haughty manner.
There is a stronger way of putting this but the kind of vivid characterisation which applies here is hardly suitable for a family newspaper.
The reason I am back again talking about landlords is that many readers contacted me about a previous column on this subject to share experiences akin to the troubles my company was encountering with a big property company that, among things, was devising all manner of ways to avoid paying back a rental deposit.
This five-month saga has finally come to an end and we managed to get our money back, minus a deduction for "damage" unilaterally determined by the landlord without any form of verification of the alleged rectification costs.
So far, so bad, and in the interests of full disclosure, because it is always possible that not all big landlords behave in this way, I should say that company in question is a subsidiary of Sino Land. Having talked to other tenants in our building, I can report that we were not singled out for poor treatment.
Anyway, the time came when Sino finally ran out of excuses for not returning the money but even then big corporation arrogance was on full display.
One of the many officials involved in the arduous negotiations to end this dispute wrote a snotty little note saying that in its magnanimity the landlord had decided to waive the requirement to produce an audited report of turnover for the period when our restaurant was under construction. Unsurprisingly, our auditors had nothing to audit for that period of time.
Let's just pause here and think about this because even landlords know that restaurants under construction are not open for business and therefore cannot possibly have any turnover. The landlord knew exactly when the premises were being built because not only had we told them but also, throughout the construction period, it sent officials to delay the work in ways that added to costs.
I presume we were supposed to be grateful for the "waiver" of a nonsensical requirement but the stupidity did not end there. Instead of simply sending a cheque for the outstanding money Sino insisted that it should be personally collected from a certain official.
The person in question neither answered his phone nor responded to messages for the better part of a week until he was finally tracked down.
The sum in question was a modest six-figure amount that will hardly make or break a mighty billion-dollar corporation like Sino, so why on earth was it behaving in this petty and obstructive manner?
Well, it's not for me to answer but I guess that the basic reason is that it does so because it can. But even this does not really explain why it should want to do so.
Again, and this is pure guesswork, the reason probably is that these very big companies develop a culture of entitlement which persuades them they have rights to do as they like when dealing with the little guys.
However, in business little guys sometimes become big guys and they do not develop amnesia as their companies grow. Memories of treatment while they were on the way up linger and have an impact on who they deal with once they have more cards in their hands.
I had an uncle who built up quite a large business from very modest beginnings in what was then a very grubby part of London's East End.
He had a very precise memory of all the companies who screwed him while he was developing his business and made a point of avoiding them or giving them a very hard time when they came calling for a deal.
It was not a particularly dignified way of behaving but quite understandable in terms of human nature.
The sting in the tail of this story is that he finally sold his business to a rival with whom competition had been intense and personal relations between my uncle and the rival's boss were, to put it mildly, rather poor.
However, he wanted out and the other company wanted in and was prepared to pay the price for an acquisition and so the deal was done. After all, at the end of the day, business is business, is it not?