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Part 1: To bribe or not to bribe?

Monday, February 23, 2015

To pay a bribe or not to pay a bribe? Is that really a question? Today I will expand on an important issue that I began in my February 1, 2015 blog, Ethics and integrity in cross cultural business. In it I referred to a rather lengthy document on the subject of ethics and integrity in cross cultural business.  

This is now the first blog on the issue of paying of bribes.  Many people would like to make this a rather simple question with a simple answer; however we need to be “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.”  It is not always simple and oftentimes we need to understand the culture and learn new and creative ways to accomplish the desired end goal without violating any of these principles.

What is a bribe?

Some definitions are general and simplistic such as “…something valuable (such as money) that is given in order to get someone to do something.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definition of bribe.) John Noonan, a former federal judge,  defines a bribe as “an inducement improperly influencing the performance of a public function meant to be gratuitously exercised.” (A History of Bribery).  The legal dictionary sponsored and hosted by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School, defines it as “corrupt solicitation, acceptance, or transfer of value in exchange for official action.” (Wex legal dictionary definition of bribery.)

Consider a “starter kit” of important questions to ask

The questions below rely on the Noonan definition which demands an understanding of what is proper and thus “improper”.  You can study this more thoroughly in Noonan’s writings but the following questions will help us as business owners to determine the propriety of our proposed action.
  1. Will the decision negatively impact my testimony and the Gospel?  What we believe, say and do must be consistent and correlated.
  2. Will the decision violate the moral authority and principles of the Bible? Biblical morality is rooted in the holiness, justice and love of God.
  3. Will the decision violate a law?  In “rule of law” societies the law is the moral floor, providing minimal standards.  US laws such as the FCPA must be carefully studied.
  4. Could I proudly tell anyone about the decision? We must have nothing to hide and we must feel comfortable in case the decision is broadcast in the media.
  5. Can I put this decision to the same rigor as a financial analysis or auditing standards?  Consider writing down your ethical standards and use them in a regular monitoring of them.
The answers to these questions are discovered in the context of: 
  • Biblical culture and the law of God.
  • Our own culture and its laws and norms.
  • The host culture where we are doing business.
The Business as Mission and its BAM Review and The BAM Think Tank are excellent Business As Mission resource websites which contain numerous illustrations and guidelines from business leaders in the BAM sector. Here are several articles related to today's topic that you may find useful:

Come back next week for Part 2 of To bribe or not to bribe? I will focus even more specifically on bribery and provide even more questions to ask ourselves.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Don’t give up!

Monday, February 16, 2015

In recent months I have been in on several conversations with the owners of overseas kingdom business start ups who were discouraged – who were ready to give up.  It is not easy to know if they need encouragement, or if they need a key resource they currently lack, or if they legitimately need to ‘pivot’ and head in a new direction.  

We all know that hurdles or stumbling stones along the way can be stepping stones to success. The discouraging obstacles we encounter can actually bring out innovation, resolve and creativity.

Marketing consultant Andrew Lock acknowledges that often life doesn't go in the direction we wish it would, whether it be in our family life, personal ambitions, or business development.  But we are not doomed; most people have failures along the way and success can be just around the corner.  Lock reminds us of:
  • Walt Disney who was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”  He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland.  The proposed park was initially rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds it would only attract “riffraff”.
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything” and he was fired from his first two jobs for being “nonproductive”.  Commenting on his more than 1,000 unsuccessful attempts to invent the light bulb he said he didn’t fail all those times because those were important steps to success.
  • Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4 years old and did not read until he was 7.  His parents thought he was “subnormal” and a teacher described him as “mentally slow, unsociable and adrift in foolish dreams.”  He was expelled from school.
  • The Beatles were turned down by Decca Records with this evaluation, “We don’t like their sound.  Guitar groups are on their way out.”
  • Fred Astaire’s memo after his first screen test read, “Can’t act, Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
  • Winston Churchill, when it seemed Hitler would overcome England, delivered his famous “Never give up” speech and included, "The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem."
  • Bill Job at Meixia Company (Xiamen, China), told me that many times he wondered if he would ever make it as a Kingdom business. But now years later, the Wall Street Journal credits him as a “pioneer business spirit and innovative artist” and now there is a multi-million dollar business.  Check out Bill's story at: http://www.amoymagic.com/meixia/meixia.htm.
Imagine if these people and others like them had given up. They all had times of depression and despair, but they continued on.

God's Holy Word reminds us that life is not always easy, but we can always turn to Him for strength, wisdom and guidance:
  • For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
  • As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.  (II Thessalonians 3:13)
  • We do not lose heart...inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (II Corinthians 4:1, 16)

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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God and Guinness?

Monday, February 09, 2015

I enjoy reading the blogs of Paul Sohn, and the following can be found in its entirety in his blog, God and Guinness: The Missional Drink that Changed the World. I am quoting most of Sohn’s thoughts here with some modifications, not as an advocate of the Guinness drink, but as an example of what businesses can do to change the world around them. 


To many, this juxtaposition may appear sacrilegious, if not rightfully awkward. But only those who know the story behind the Guinness family can fully appreciate the connection between the two; that is, how the national drink of Ireland became arguably the greatest instrument for propagating the Gospel.

Here are some interesting tidbits I gleaned in my study of the Guinness family:
  • The trademark thick foam head of Guinness is the result of the presence of nitrogen. This is why one should drink Guinness from a glass and not the can or bottle.
  • Hendry Grattan Guinness, the grandson of Arthur Guinness, was a contemporary evangelist whose name was often mentioned alongside the likes of D.L.  Moody and Charles Spurgeon. His son married Hudson Taylor’s daughter.
  • Today, nearly 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed daily, nearly 2 billion pints a year.
  • Arthur Guinness, the founder of Guinness, founded the first Sunday school in Ireland.
  • In 2003, a researcher from University of Wisconsin concluded that a pint of Guinness a day actually bolsters health and is infinitely better for you than the caffeine in coffee or the high fructose corn syrup in soda.

Calling – Business as Mission

Arthur Guinness was a man of faith.  Born in 1724 into a family in which his father was an archbishop, he embodied the words that were his family motto: Spes mea in deo (My hope is in God). The famous revivalist John Wesley inspired Arthur greatly and fueled him to use his God-given talents in entrepreneurship as a vehicle to follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Arthur adopted Wesley’s well-known mantra as a foundation to his perspective on life and wealth: “Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” 

Thirty years before Arthur’s birth, the British parliament enacted legislation forbidding the importation of liquor (an anti-French brandy and wine campaign fueled by political and religious conflicts with France) and encouraging the production and consumption of Irish and English made gin. Gin houses sprang up throughout Ireland and England to the point that every sixth house in England was a gin house! Gin and whiskey became the primary beverage for an overwhelmingly large number of people thanks also to the micro-organism and disease ridden water supply of the day. This led to excessive drunkenness resulting in a poverty-ridden, crime-infested time. 

Arthur Guinness was infuriated with this drunkenness. He constantly prayed to God to do something with the alcoholism on the streets of Ireland. In fact, he felt God calling him to “make a drink that men will drink that will be good for them.” He then developed a dark stout beer called Guinness. Guinness contained so much iron that people felt full before they could drink more pints. During its creation, the alcohol level was lower than gin and whiskey.

Guinness truly was doing business as a mission instead of business for mission. With the preserving influence of the salt and penetrating influence of light, his life truly exemplified the Lord’s mandate to be the salt and light of the world.

The Legacy of Guinness

If the story of the Guinness story ended with a man of Arthur Guinness, it would be a fairly small footnote in pages of history. Many of Guinness’ accomplishments were done in his family by teaching values girded in his biblical faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. He created a family culture that focused on giving generously and investing in his people.

The grandson of Arthur Guinness named Hendry Grattan Guinness became a foremost evangelist spreading the Good News. Another descendant of Guinness received 5 million pounds sterling for a wedding gift, but then moved his new bride into the slums to utilize his resources to eradicate the poverty in the land.

Another Guinness heir became Lord Iveagh as a member of the House of Lords due to his philanthropic efforts. In his new role, he brought wholesale changes to the legal system. In that time, dueling on the streets was common. Like you see in the movies, people would turn around and shoot each other whenever there was conflict. Lord Iveagh pointed to biblical principles as the better approach: if you’ve got something against somebody, you need to talk to them; if they won’t change or refuse to listen, you will have a legal representation who will go to public court with a witness. This is how he embedded the biblical principles into the legal system.

Guinness – A Great Place to Work

If you think Google or Facebook has great perks, Guinness was one of them. “You cannot make money from people unless you are willing for people to make money from you.” This was a key belief subscribed to by the Guinness family. This starkly contrasts with the traditional thinking of todays’ corporations where employees are often treated as a disposable resource instead of a unique human being created by God.

Guinness’s investment in employees was impressive. If you had worked for Guinness in 1928, a year before the Great Depression, you would have had 24-hour medical care, 24-hour dental care and on-site massage therapy. In addition to this, your funeral expenses as well as your pension were all paid by the company. Your education, as well as your children’s and wife’s education, were all paid for. The company had libraries, reading rooms, athletic facilities and so on. Now, think again. This was 1928…not 2012.

The Guinness family was, by all accounts, a godly family and one the Lord used greatly in His service. What most fascinates me is not the novelty of utilizing beer as an instrument to spread the Good News but how a Christian businessman incorporated his faith so holistically in his business. Today, the world needs more people like Arthur Guinness.

Let me conclude this blog post with a departing question to you. What are you doing now that is giving glory to God?What tool are you using to maximize your God-given talent to advance the Christian mission? 

If this blog post piqued your interest, I highly recommended Stephen Mansfield’s book, The Search for God and Guinness. It is a fantastic read even for those like myself who don’t enjoy beer. Mansfield ends the book, capturing the essence of the Guinness Way:
  1. Discern the ways of God for life and business.
  2. Think in terms of generations yet to come.
  3. Whatever else you do, do at least one thing very well.
  4. Master the facts before you act.
  5. Invest in those you would have invest in you.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Ethics and integrity in cross cultural business

Sunday, February 01, 2015


“Be wise and give serious thought to the way you live.”  (King Solomon in Proverbs 23:19)

The football season is over for another year but not without its accusations of cheating, scandal and ethical challenges.  Such is true of all of life and especially in doing business internationally and cross culturally.

Doing business ethically between cultures is not as easy as it might sound.  For example, I often hear people say, “We don’t pay bribes,” but I often wonder what they mean by that.  While the Bible is clear on many principles of ethics, it sometimes seems blurry for some situations.  It’s a challenge to come up with guidelines that consider our Biblical standards, our own home culture, and the host culture of operation.

I’ll be exploring this topic in greater depth in the weeks ahead, but a good starting point for this discussion is an article I wrote and have used for many years in my teaching entitled, “Guidelines for Cross Cultural Business Ethics”.  It was recently republished on the BAM Review (The BAM Review) by The BAM Think Tank. 

Living and coaching ethically in any culture requires us to continually study the text, the culture and understand thoroughly our own context.  I’d encourage you to read this in its entirety but focus on the ‘starter kit’ section (A basic ‘starter kit’ of questions to consider when facing ethical decisions) and stay tuned for deeper drill downs in future blogs regarding making ethical decisions in our business development abroad:


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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