How to cheat: bungs and kickbacks

Earning a living as a lighting designer/specifier can be a challenge. There must be an easier way to turn a profit. Let’s talk bribery and ethical relativity, shall we?

Early on in my career as a fee-charging lighting designer I realised that there was a major disparity between the money I was earning and the value of the specifications that I was producing. Surely some mistake! Its one of those existential moments when you really have to decide what you want to do. There are three choices; shrug your shoulders and crack on with the creative stuff; get down and dirty at the supply route end and enjoy the margins; or cross over to the Dark Side, and cheat.

Kickbacks and inducements have always been with us, around the edges of the industry. Sometimes bribery is a just distant muttering beyond the margins, but there are times in the economic cycle when they can be screaming in your face – like today. No one’s doubting that it’s a troubling time to be running a design/specification business, but I insist that its also not the time to weaken, because that journey to the Dark Side can be a one-way ride. And once a reputation is lost, its gone for a long, long, time.

What rattled my cage? I was talking about the importance for the industry to get behind good quality, robust, specifications to try and keep out the rubbish. What I wasn’t expecting was the response: ”Yes, but what are you going to do about the consultant who’s only prepared to guarantee the specification of our fixtures if we’re prepared to pay a hefty double-digit commission to that specifier?”

‘Commission’: a fee allotted to an agent for services rendered

aka ‘Kickback’: the illicit payment made to someone in return for facilitating a transaction.

Its simple enough: if you ask for money in exchange for promising a service, such as including certain equipment into a contract, that’s asking for a kickback. Its illegal, and the company providing the stuffed brown envelope is complicit in the crime. There is also a victim; the client. A fraud is being perpetuated because that money doesn’t come from thin air, it has to be built into the project costs one way or another; so you’re stealing from the client.

Most of those responsible for preparing specifications belong to a professional organisation. Those professional organisations will have published Codes of Conduct, like these:

Don’t let there be any misunderstanding; we’ve all been tempted, especially when times are hard. But the real answer is to keep the process clean because that’s the only way to guarantee a lifelong reputation.

See you out there.

Bungs and Kickbacks has been opened on The Light Review Forum to discuss this topic.


The 7-step Programme to Good Lighting

Step 4: The Product Supply
Once money starts changing hands for ‘favours’, as in “you see me alright and see that you get the business” then the integrity of the design process is finished. There can be no trust that correct decisions have been made, nor that design companies – engaged for their ‘independence’ – are doing anything other than lining their pockets..

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