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2008-08-28 09:46

  My Dad taught me to never let anyone push me around.

  As long as I can remember I have always confronted bullies and stood up for myself. My Dad — I sure miss him— taught me to never let anyone, or anything push me around. He told me that our problems become much worse when you let someone run over you unchecked. I've since learned that this applies both to our personal and business lives.

  Dealing with a bully in Marine Corps' boot camp.

  Back in 1968 during Marine Corps boot camp at Paris Island, I learned a lesson about dealing with bullies. One of the members of our platoon was a classic bully. He was mean, huge, muscular and a bit on the dumb side. Anyone he was around he purposely terrorized. Most of the recruits that he bullied simply took it and shrunk away from him. Then he would continue to bully and pick on them without mercy.

  The day the bully decided to pick on me.

  One day, this monster (whose name I cannot remember) wound up being sent back to the barracks with me and several others for clean-up duty. Once back at the barracks he started pushing me and even slapped me in the back of the head. I knew that if I didn't stand up to him, I would become his new whipping boy – so I turned around and with all my might, made a fist and hit him square in the jaw. I expected him to go down but instead he just stood there somewhat stunned that someone like me would attack him. To my disbelief and horror, he simply shook off the punch, gave me a look of sudden anger, clenched his fists and roared that he was going to kill me.

  He threw a violent punch with the intention of knocking me into next week!

  When he rushed at me, he threw a violent punch aimed square at my head — if it connected, it had the potential of knocking me into next week — but I ducked and jumped through his legs (he was a huge guy) and came up in back of him. I then leaped on his back and started hitting him on the side of his head and neck. He did everything he could to throw me off. He banged his back (and me) into a wall and threw himself backwards into the barrack's floor. Inspite all of this, I hung on for dear life and kept hitting him as hard and often as I possibly could. He howled and unleashed a string of obscenitites. Then the rest of the guys jumped in and pulled us apart.

  After being pulled apart he tried a few more times to get at me, but between me making it a point to stay well clear of him and the others jumping in to restrain him, he didn't get his hands on me. Then the others reminded him that the drill instructor would return shortly, and it was his fear of the drill instructor's arrival that finally calmed him down.

  The bully never bothered me again.

  He pointed at me and said he was going to beat me to death when he got the chance. In turn, I looked him straight in the eye and told him to leave me alone. From that day forward he never bothered me again. The lesson I learned from this was a simple but valuable one. The moment anyone attacks you in anyway, and you are not able to defuse the situation or walk away, you must stand up for yourself.

  Fighting should always be a last resort. It's much better to walk away.

  There are caveats to this rule of mine, of course. If I ever encounter someone who is rude, obnoxious or who somehow threatens me, absolutely the last thing I want to do is fight. I would only fight if there is no other option. It's much better to swallow my pride, walk away and avoid confrontation at all costs. If there is a personal threat and it is significant, it is best to let the police handle the situation.

  In similar fashion, when I'm driving and someone for whatever reason “cuts me off” or does something dumb, I never become upset and blow the horn. I may shake my head in disbelief, but that's as far as it goes. If another driver becomes upset with me and “gives me the finger,” or makes some other unpleasant gesture aimed at me, I never respond. I know that it's much better — for both of us — to simply let the situation go.

  Once I had to take on the USGA.

  I learned how important it is to stand up to bullies many times in business. One example that immediately comes to mind happened when I owned Parsons Technology and was unfairly challenged by the United States Golf Association (“USGA”).

  The disagreement was over a golf software program.

  Back then I was an avid golfer, so I had my staff write a software program that let individuals compute their golf handicap. I approached Golf Digest (a well known golf magazine) and was able to strike a deal where our program was marketed using their name. I called the program “Golf Digest's ScoreCard for Windows.”

  The USGA demanded that we substantially modify the program.

  Upon learning of the program, the USGA became furious and sent us a letter stating we were violating their trademarks. They insisted that we modify the software so that it did not compute a handicap and no longer referred to several of their trademarks. Our earlier research indicated that what we were doing was, in fact legal because the way in which we were doing so was considered a “fair use” under the law.

  The USGA showed me that they were indeed a corporate bully.

  When we contacted the USGA and talked to their General Counsel we were surprised at the response. They said that they didn't care what our research showed. If we went ahead with the program, they would sue us nevertheless. So they knew we had a right to use the trademarks but thought that since we were a small company and they (the “USGA”) were huge, they could bully us and get us to shrink away from a very expensive fight – one they could easily afford, but one that would tax our resources.

  I was left with no choice.

  The modifications the USGA wanted, if I complied with their demands, would leave my software program with diminished appeal. So I was indeed backed into a corner. Since I knew that what I was doing was right under the eyes of the law, I decided to stand up to them.

  I immediately filed for a declaratory judgment.

  There is a procedural mechanism known as a "declaratory judgment" through which a court determines the rights of parties without actually ordering anything be done or awarding any damages. This allows a party to nip controversies in the bud before getting into full-blown litigation. Simply put, if the court decides in your favor, the threat becomes moot. So I got together with my law firm, and immediately filed for a declaratory judgment.

  The USGA backed off and my interests were protected.

  Realizing they were going to be beaten at their own game, they agreed to let us go ahead with the ScoreCard program and use the trademarks. In essence, they allowed us to do what we were already legally permitted to do. We signed an agreement that there would be no further legal activity with respect to the program and our filing was withdrawn.

  I fought because the USGA gave me no other option.

  For the remainder of the time that I owned Parsons Technology and for a while afterward, we successfully sold the “Golf ScoreCard” program. This was only possible because I stood up to a huge corporate bully. Had I not stood up to the USGA, the deal I worked so hard to get with Golf Digest, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars I invested to develop the software program would have all gone for naught. The USGA gave me no option but to stand up and fight them, and fight them I did.

  I have had to fight corporate bullies many times.

  Since the episode with the USGA I've since been confronted by other corporate bullies whose actions threatened to damage me in one way or another. Each time I've tried to defuse the situation without a fight. A few times I've been successful in getting a bully to back off, or have been able to modify what I've been doing so that there is no longer an issue. Several other times, however, I've had to take legal action to defend my interests. I'm happy to tell you that each and every time I have been successful.

  Only fight battles you can win.

  It's important to never enter a fight unless you are reasonably certain that the law is on your side. Long ago, I was twice accused of trademark infringement and subsequent research showed that the accusations were not without validity. In one case I reached an amicable resolution with the complaining party and modified my trademark. In the other case I simply abandoned the trademark. In business it never makes sense to enter a fight you probably won't win. If I feel the law is on my side however, I always stand up for my rights. Also I learned to do a much better job of investigating potential trademarks before I use them.

  Never let anyone push you around.

  So my advice to you is simply this: Never let anyone push you around. First, try to defuse the situation. If you can't do that, stand up and defend yourself.

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