"Lessons Earned" by John Sanderson: Be Transparent, Open & Honest

by John Sanderson, CPA, CIMA® May 25, 2023 Lessons Earned

In this series, we share some of John Sanderson's favorite insights and anecdotes from his book, “Lessons Earned.” Throughout the book, John shares dozens of lessons he has learned, starting as a young boy and culminating with his leadership as founder and chairman of Sanderson Wealth Management.



My Grandma Woodward was one of the hardest workers I knew. She came from modest means, and had a good job with a company that made typewriters and other business machines. To earn extra money, she also did housecleaning for other families.

One day, at one of these houses, she made an egregious mistake. The family was religious, and they separated their dishes used for meat from their dishes used for dairy. While cleaning up, my Grandma accidentally put one of the dairy bowls in a sink that was designated for meat dishes, unintentionally (but undoubtably) violating their beliefs.

Nobody would have known—but my Grandma knew, and she recognized that the family took their dietary restrictions very seriously. So she told the family that she had mixed up one of their dishes, understanding that it would likely cost her the job. But she didn’t get fired. In fact, they told my grandmother that they admired her honesty, and asked her to please stay.

I’ve tried to be honest with people my entire life. It’s gotten me fired (twice), but it’s the only way I know how to live. I am brutally honest. I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I’m mad, you’ll know that I’m mad. I’ll give it to you straight and tell it like it is, no matter what. Even when I’m doing employee reviews, I’ll be honest with people about their strengths and weaknesses. It’s so important to have those uncomfortable conversations that need to happen, and not just kick them down the road.

Similarly, when I’m working with clients or colleagues to buy or sell a business, I’ll gladly show the other party my numbers and the worksheets behind them, and tell them exactly where my data came from. There’s no reason to lie.

The best business deals are like an open book. Yes, sometimes a client may end up paying a little more for a business—but I sleep better at night knowing that we’re not hiding any information, or being deceitful in any way. In fact, when deals do fall through, we often find ourselves back at the same table with the same people within a year or two—largely because they trusted us, and knew we weren’t going to lie to them.

It all comes back to being a true fiduciary, which for us means being honest, open, and transparent. We never have to choose between doing what’s right for our clients and doing something that would benefit the firm. (Some other “fiduciaries” are actually dual registered, which means they may be acting as a fiduciary some of the time, but prioritizing other interests at other times. Not us.) We look at the strictest ethical requirements for CPAs, CFAs, attorneys, and other professionals—and make sure our standards are even higher.

One of the best things about being honest is that you never have to remember what you said—or what someone else said—in the past. You just do what’s right. Earn people’s trust. And always, always tell the truth.


Reprinted with permission from "Lessons Earned: Stories from a Lifetime Spent Fully Invested," copyright © 2022 John R. Sanderson.

This story reflects the author’s present recollections of people and experiences over time. Some identifying details have been changed and some dialogue has been recreated. While the author has made a concerted effort to provide accurate information, neither the publisher nor the author shall have any liability or responsibility for any adverse effects or loss caused, or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly, by any information included in this story.