Three cheers for Eddie Obeid! There’s a guy who knew how to make money.

Ironic exclamation marks aside, honest businesspeople really could learn a lot from the Sultan of Shonk.

Have you ever wondered how Obeid came to wield so much power in New South Wales? After all, he never served as premier or treasurer. Apart from a stint as a junior minister, he spent his political career on the back bench.

So how did he do it?

The secret of his success was that he did favours for people and asked nothing in return – at least not initially.

Obeid understood a thing called the ‘law of reciprocity’, which means that when humans take something they instinctively feel the need to give something in return.

By doing favour after favour for person after person, Obeid was able to accumulate a bank of credits, which he then cashed in at the most suitable times.

If you had kept taking from Obeid, how could you say no when he finally asked for something in return?

Happily, what works for a politician-cum-businessman-cum-godfather can also work for an honest businessperson. If you keep giving value to your customers and asking nothing in return, chances are they’ll eventually repay the favour.

The key is to give something that’s inexpensive for you but which they regard as valuable.

One example is expert information – an accountant offering tax tips or a plumber sharing maintenance advice. Another example is a personalised birthday card; some will find it cynical but others will be touched. Martin Grunstein, a professional speaker on customer service, recommends calling your best clients before the Melbourne Cup and telling them you’ve given them a free entry into your sweep. They’ll be delighted if they end up winning the prize, but will still feel grateful if their horse finishes last.

Businesses will get a big return on investment if these small acts trigger a purchase or referral.

If you don’t believe me, pop over to Silverwater Jail and ask Obeid. He specialised in favours that were cheap to him but which meant a lot to the recipient. So when he eventually called in his debts, he was able to collect far more than he’d ever paid out.

It’s unclear how Eddie Obeid has been coping since being imprisoned in December, but if history is any guide, he would’ve already made himself very popular.

[Bonus read: CEO wanted: dickheads need not apply]