The Gas Thief

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

[email protected]


A business owner from California called me the other day to talk about a recent discovery he made when reviewing his company’s monthly Profit and Loss Statement. While he had noticed the trend for several months, the current P&L showed a dramatic spike in fuel expenses, well beyond the normal rate due to continued price increases. Dutifully, he conducted an investigation by reviewing all the company drivers’ gas cards for the past six months.

Based on his investigation, the owner identified one driver, an established Foreman, whose company gas card had shown a pattern of significant increased expense for the months in question. In an effort to maintain accountability, the owner asked the Foreman to explain the increased gas expenses.

Ready for this one?

The Foreman forthrightly responded that he was using the company gas credit card to fill up his personal vehicles. Surprised by the Foreman’s candor, the owner instinctively reminded the Foreman that such action was a clear violation of company policy.

Now, are you really ready for this one?

Smugly, if not defiantly, the Foreman responded: “What are you going to do, fire me? If you fire me, I will take four full work crews with me, and you will be crippled. Also, if you fire me, I will call every one of your clients and tell them that you are a hateful, bigoted, and unethical owner, and they should immediately stop having your company do their landscaping, and by doing so, you will be out of business in no time at all.”

Completely beside himself, the owner called me for guidance.

I told him to fire the Foreman immediately.

Paradoxically he said “Really?” After I looked around the room searching for Rod Serling thinking I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone, I reminded the owner that the Foreman was an admitted liar and thief, with a budding career in extortion. I facetiously asked the owner if he wanted those qualities to be role modeled to other employees? If so, promote this guy. If not, he should not be part of the culture.

The owner, scared, timid, and existential, said, “But Steve, he can shut me down.”

I told the owner if he thought the Foreman’s behavior would improve or metastasize over the next several months, possibly exacerbating to equipment theft, phantom employee paychecks, and more carcinogenic impact to the already frail company culture? Like an echo, I heard “But Steve, he can shut me down.”

And now class, let’s turn the page to see an applied example of “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Bluntly, I then said, “It’s not your company anymore. You are a mere figurehead, disrespected, taunted, and openly mocked.” I told him to look forward and put a plan together: fire the Foreman, be proactive with existing customers to mitigate prophesized disinformation, raise wages for honest employees and for new hires, and most importantly, get his entrepreneurial confidence back. Clearly, not an easy path. Yet, at least that path would redefine him as a leader, while the current path is a certain harbinger of continued embarrassment and inevitable failure.

As the conversation closed, I told him to call me back when he made his decision.

You guessed it: He still hasn’t called me back.

By the way, would you have called me back?

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.