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Small Business

When a Business Tightens Its Belt

Sacrifices should start at the top, not the bottom. Plus: When you're hesitant to write a requested recommendation.

What is the most ethical way for senior management and corporate directors to deal with key stakeholders -- employees and shareholders -- during a severe slump in their business?

If a company is running big losses and must conserve capital, sacrifice should start at the top, not the bottom. The stockholder dividend should be cut or eliminated. Senior managers should freeze their own salaries, forgo bonuses and maybe trim their pay. If that's not enough, pay may be frozen company-wide, to spread the pain and forestall furloughs and layoffs, which should be the last resort.


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A big customer of my firm asked me to write a letter of recommendation to my alma mater for his daughter, an applicant. I've met the girl only twice, fleetingly, and she seemed self-centered and rude. How can I decline this request without jeopardizing an important business relationship?

How about telling your customer, with the utmost courtesy, that you generally write letters only for applicants you know very well and that you don't feel qualified to do so for his daughter? If he doesn't take the hint, offer to spend an hour interviewing his daughter. If your impression of her is the same after that, find a few positive things to say in a bland letter of support. The admissions office will recognize a "duty" letter.

Have a money-and-ethics question you'd like answered in this column? Write editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at