As a Harvard Business School graduate who became fed up with big business during the mid-'70s, I sweet-talked my wife, a native of Mexico City, into opening a tiny Mexican restaurant on the outskirts of Cleveland, in Hudson, Ohio. Since then, it has evolved into a popular 250- seat operation.

In a nation that often embraces "change for change sake," I am pleased and proud that a number of the suppliers that we started doing business with in our early years are still coming in our back door today, including our E&S dealer, S.S. Kemp of Cleveland.

My strong allegiance to these suppliers is due to what I will call the two "Fs" that I perceive are the pillars of their operations year after year ... FAIRNESS and FITNESS.

Regarding fairness, after a handshake in 1978, the owner of our E&S dealership promised to extend to us the best possible pricing from then on. Because his word has proven to be good, frequent price checks in the early years have waned to happenstance comparisons in recent years. Remarkably, I don't believe my contacts or their computers have ever deviated from this original promise!

When an organization broadly embraces fairness and fitness, it optimizes its chances for longer-term success.

Fairness is also evidenced in the way this dealer has helped me reach intelligent purchasing decisions. Invariably, I sense that this dealer's people are determined to find the best solution for my operation, regardless of how it impacts their bottom line.

Once again, our E&S dealer doesn't just pay lip service to the issue of fitness; it puts it into practice. My urgent Monday morning phone call attests to this, since the company's training session precludes anyone from answering my call!

Being fit means knowing your products, your systems, your mission. My sales contact (who incidentally knows my voice from my "hello") finds my supplies item numbers on her computer before I can even finish describing what I need; knows exactly when I need a drop-ship of something not in stock; calls me when she sees a manufacturer's notice of a discontinued item that will impact me ... and all of this with a smile in her voice.

When an organization broadly embraces fairness and fitness, it optimizes its chances for longer-term success. It can then attract and retain higher-quality staff, becoming a place where good people are anxious to work and are reluctant to leave. It thrives on its people cooperating with one another literally hundreds of times daily with the goal of satisfying customer needs. Pride and teamwork are constantly visible. Mistakes do not trigger finger-pointing and cover-ups of WHO was at fault, but simply induce an open review of HOW to best correct the existing problem and, more importantly, to avoid its reoccurrence.

In this atmosphere, yet another "F" comes into play ... work actually becomes FUN. Obviously, Bill Parcells has put FUN back into the workplace for members of the Dallas Cowboys football organization. But you don't have to be a highly paid athlete to experience this phenomenon. At our restaurant, we are told by numerous adults in their 30s and 40s, who are often college graduates holding down good jobs, that their most enjoyable work experience was bussing and dishwashing for us while in high school. I don't imagine they would fabricate this just to make their old boss happy or to get seated faster ... now, would they?

In summary, in my more than 25 years as an independent restaurateur, I have developed A+, win-win relationships with numerous partnering suppliers, and I have to base this primarily on their practicing the two "Fs" .... FAIRNESS AND FITNESS.