Hey, You're Human

Everyone makes mistakes. Here’s how to learn from them.

“It said his,’ but she was obviously a ‘her.’”

The Problem:

If it wasn’t for the pronoun, the award would have been perfect. Joel Kaplan can explain.

The president/owner of Specialties, Inc. (asi/331340) delivered five awards for an educational association to present to leaders in the field. Each was elegant and expertly executed – except there was a flaw in one of the items. On an award to be given to a female recipient, the woman was congratulated for ‘his’ contributions – rather than ‘her’ contribution. “It said ‘his,’ but she was obviously a ‘her,” says Kaplan with a little laugh.

The Solution:

Kaplan found out about the grammatical flub when the client called to complain. Worse, there wasn’t time to do a re-run before the event. Still, Kaplan kept his emotions in check and made the best of the situation. He apologized, accepted responsibility and then assured the client he was dropping everything else in order to provide the award with the proper pronoun as quickly as possible.

Kaplan was true to his word, paying out of pocket for the item that the supplier, feeling some culpability, sold to him at a discounted rate. “It cost me some money, but I saved the client,” Kaplan says. While the association client presented the incorrectly worded award initially, the recipient was told she’d receive the accurate one soon after – and she did.

The Lessons:

Through the experience, Kaplan learned or had reinforced pertinent insights into how to conduct business. Firstly, the importance of diligent proofing was made apparent. Additionally, Kaplan saw the deep value of building good rapport with clients. Because he had a strong relationship with the association, the buyer gave him the benefit of the doubt on the error and was not only willing to believe he’d set things right, but also to work with him again once he did. “Relationships still trump everything else,” Kaplan says. “If you have good relationships with your clients, they can be strong enough to endure certain mistakes.”

Furthermore, Kaplan says the scenario illustrates how taking responsibility for an error and then working swiftly toward a solution provides reps with much better odds of assuaging clients and maintaining business ties with them. “I could have tried to pass the buck, but that’s not productive,” he says. “You have to own the mistake and make it right. When you resolve the issue quickly, you’re the hero.”


“If you have good relationships with your clients, they can be strong enough to endure certain mistakes.”


Naturally, the three decades-long owner of Specialties, Inc. emphasizes the importance of expedient problem solving and operating with integrity to his employees. The message is having the desired effect: Business was up about 8% at the distributorship last year. “At the end of the day, we’re here to facilitate and problem-solve,” says Kaplan. “When we do that, we can turn problems into success.”