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Who We Are as People Matters Most

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It was early on a Saturday morning when I came upon a small brown paper bag filled with cash sitting alongside the curb. It was mid-July 1970. I was 15 years old and walking to my summer job as a delivery boy. With my heart pounding in my chest and eyes wide open, I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I then reached into the bag, grabbed the cash and stuffed it into my pants pocket.

I was a wreck the entire day. I didn’t know how the money got there or if anyone had seen me. I didn’t say a word to anyone about the money I found. I got off work around 6 p.m. and ran home as fast as I could. I couldn’t wait to count the money. There was over $300 in tens, fives and singles—a lot of money back then for a 15-year-old. Joy turned to uncertainty as I flipped through the bills and spotted a few checks written out to LuAnn’s Beauty Salon. LuAnn was well known in the neighborhood.

My father just happened to walk into the room as I sat on the bed counting the money.  He took one look at the money and said, “You have something to tell me?” I told him how I found the paper bag filled with the cash. He was silent for a moment and said, “That looks like a lot of money, and it also looks like someone’s deposit. The decision to keep that money is yours, not mine. But whatever decision you make, you will have to live with it for the rest of your life.”

My father was a man of character. There were no gray areas with him. Things were either right or wrong. Plus, hard work and performing at your best were qualities he preached and lived by. What I didn’t realize at 15 was that my father’s core values would be the principles that I too would live by, both in my private life and in my business.

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Events in our life and in business often challenge our moral character. It’s as if we struggle daily with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. And while I may have made a ton of mistakes throughout the years, the older I get, the more I am committed to the philosophy that we all need to live by a set of core beliefs. When you come down to it, it’s who we are as people that counts the most.

A few months back, my service manager, Bill, sold an expensive catalytic converter job, only to find out that the car was under an extended factory warranty. Being upset, he came to me with the issue and said, “You know we could tell the customer after we install the converter, she will never know, and we could use the money.” Remembering my father’s words, I simply told him, “Bill, the customer may never know the truth, but you will. So, the decision is yours, but whatever decision you make you will have to live with for the rest of your life.”

Bill told the technician to stop work and then called the customer to tell her the good news. When the customer came to pick up the car, I overheard her telling Bill, “Your honesty is refreshing in today’s world. It’s the reason why I love coming here, the reason why I recommended my friends to you and the reason why I will keep coming back.”

Did we really lose anything with our decision? I don’t think so. Did Bill learn a valuable lesson that day? Absolutely.

The decisions we make in our lives define who we are and how we will be remembered. Our core beliefs help to guide us, particularly in tough times. We can rationalize all we want, but in the end, what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.

Oh, by the way, I did end up giving the money back. On one of the checks was a phone number. I called the number and by chance it was LuAnn’s sister. She was so happy I called that she began to cry. She went on and on about my honesty and how happy LuAnn would be to get her deposit money back. I was given 25 bucks as a reward, and learned a lesson that would stay with me for life.

Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of Reach him at

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