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Business: to find or to create?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

I have been interested in gold panning for many years. The Cariboo Gold Rush took place not far from where I grew up in central British Columbia. Later, I panned for gold in Alaska. In every case I was unsuccessful – but I had fun anyway!

Last week I visited the site of the first gold discovered at Columa, California which kicked off that famous gold rush of 1849. James Marshall had discovered gold in the tailrace of the sawmill he operated with John Sutter. On January 24, 1848 he exclaimed “Boys, I believe I’ve found a gold mine.”

The stampede the following year changed the course of California and the United States forever. The culture of the native peoples was shattered; the town in the mud flats of the bay soon become the well-known city of San Francisco; the Mexican province became the US state of California in 1850, and most all of the thousands who stampeded to the “El Dorado” of California died in poverty including Marshall and Sutter.

What is it about gold anyway? People look for it in hopes of finding it. It is a gamble of “seek and find”. While it is true that gold has sustainability as a precious metal and it has been a standard for currencies worldwide, it is something that must be found or discovered. It is not something that is created. It can lose value and it can be volatile. Without demeaning the value of finding, buying or holding gold, let us think of another perspective.

There are not a lot of enduring evidences in the history of the scriptures or in oral tradition that finding gold is of high value. However, there is biblical evidence that creation of value is more important. After all God is a Creator-God (Genesis 1-2) and he then said to mankind to be creator, worker humans. “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over…every living creature…” (Genesis 1:28).

Perhaps even more instructive is God’s appeal to not forget his laws and how the world works.He maintains in Deuteronomy 8:18, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” What an amazing thought at a time in history when we have been conditioned to believe that the government will provide for our needs, or education can solve problems, or the church can miraculously sustain its members. All these institutions have their value, but none of them can create wealth. None can make something from nothing like the creator-God can or like business can – something ordained by God.

Recently the IBEC blog, "BAM and the end of poverty", quoted Theologian Wayne Grudem who states it well, “…I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business. That is because business produces goods, and businesses produce jobs. And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year. Therefore, if we are ever going to see long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable business." (Wayne Grudem, 2003).

As we seek to start value and job creating businesses in the world, we are fulfilling the commands of God; without businesses, the world ceases to work. All else consumes the wealth of business. Education, the church, government depend on the income generated by businesses. We are creators of such wealth and it was God’s idea from the beginning that we work hard to create the world’s wealth – and all for his glory!

Lessons I learned from a risk taker - Part 2

Sunday, May 22, 2016

An Alaskan seafood company provided me with my first real business management experience and its owner, Doris, with my first experience working for a risk taker and industry innovator. I've shared some of the many lessons I learned from her previously (An Alaskan mother, an Alaskan entrepreneur). Last week I shared a little known story of how she hired former Vietnam pilots to fly old DC-3s, 4s, and 6s from the Arizona desert to Alaska so fresh fish could be flown to places like Cook Inlet where there was no glut of fish. If you didn't get a chance to read Lessons I learned from a risk taker - Part 1, it's well worth a few minutes of your time, if for no other reason than you'll have a good story to tell the next time you enjoy a salmon dinner.

Time and again, Doris proved to be a master risk taker. Though it wasn't always easy, working for her taught me countless lessons that have helped me throughout my life and particularly in my work with BAM (Business As Mission) businesses. I'll pass on these nine to you, in hopes that you can learn from them as well:
  1. Tolerance: Entrepreneurs think outside the box. Doris’ ideas were uncomfortable to me as a manager and to the finance people who continuously watched the bottom line. This was another scary idea from Doris. One day I asked where Doris was and she was on a plane for the capitol to talk to the Governor. Wow, I thought, I could have used that money to hire someone to fix an ailing compressor. I either had to learn tolerance for her risk tolerance or get out. As hard as it was, I decided to stay.
  2. Comfort with chaos: As Lewis Carroll said, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” That was Doris. It irritated me. I wondered where the money would come from. I wondered where it went. All this was not my comfort level. Again I had to learn to accept difference and be comfortable with chaos.
  3. Adaptability: As a manager I had a plan. I had goals for the shift, for the fish from the first sight of them as they surfaced from the boats in the brailers, to the semi-trailers that hauled the frozen fish away to faraway places like Norway and Japan. I scheduled breaks for the guys and knew how to put shifts together. Now I was called to the office to think about something new. I had to be patient and learn to adapt.
  4. Communication: I had to learn that sometimes risk-taking entrepreneurs need people like me and I need the courage to ask questions and make comments. That means advanced levels of communication because risk-takers sometimes have their mind made up before you first hear about the idea. It might be too late for my comments but I needed to learn how to do it appropriately and in a timely manner.
  5. Togetherness: In the business world we cannot afford a “we-them” approach as we aim toward common goals. I had to try to get along with Doris, not only as my mother-in-law, but as my boss, and as a person taking risks which sometimes seemed impossible. Some were unreasonable, but when we saw success, I learned to say “you were right – congratulations Doris.”
  6. Acceptance of failure: Not all of Doris’ big ideas were successes; in fact many were not; not unlike big industry in America. Remember the Ford Edsel, New Coke, and Apple Lisa. According to a recent Wall Street study, it is normal for 40% of new product launches to flop. While working with Doris in Alaska’s fish industry I learned that risk-takers accept failure, and I needed to understand that.
  7. There is always another day: With all the things that cause discomfort in working with an entrepreneur who takes risks easily, it can be easy to lose sleep. Maybe it was working the long days and nights, but I eventually learned to sleep and not worry about it and try to develop strategies for learning things like tolerance, adaptability, togetherness, communication, and acceptance of how a risk-taker operates.
  8. It is all about the customer: Managers can get myopic about the details of operation but it is important to keep the big picture in mind. Doris often thought about the value of salmon to the customer – its nutritional value and lofty goals like “feeding the world”. It was all about good food and healthy people. It was about the customer.
  9. Leadership: Doris was a leader and I learned that leaders lead, set direction and inspire followers. I wanted to be a leader too so I watched, listened and learned so that even though I had the innate qualities of a manager, I could learn leadership qualities, see the big picture and drive toward satisfying customer needs, better product quality and employee development. I started to learn to do the right thing and not just to do things right, as Warren Bennis reminds us ("Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.")

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Lessons I learned from a risk taker - Part 1

Monday, May 16, 2016

The word impossible is not in my dictionary. – Napoleon Bonaparte

I was recently driving through Tucson, Arizona and decided to go out of my way and visit the famed airplane graveyard in the desert. Hundreds of planes are parked there because it is a safe, dry place. Many will never fly again but many are still very useful; it is just that there is no market for them.

The scene reminded me of my mother-in-law who was the first person I met who was a true entrepreneur, one characteristic of which is having a high tolerance for taking risks. I had taken a job in a fish processing plant which she owned. I quickly learned the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of fish processing in Alaska and the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of working with a risk taker.

First a little background on the salmon industry in Alaska.The salmon return to their streams to spawn on a God-given cycle and they return at different times throughout the summer. So when they come to Cook Inlet, the fishermen are ready for the summer’s catch; similarly when they come to Bristol Bay, or to the Copper River area or to the Yukon River. The trick is that no one knows when that time is.

The net result of all this is that the processing plants (such as the one we operated) have a feast or famine situation. There is either so many fish we can’t keep up processing 24/7; or we are sitting around waiting for the fish, paying stand-by crews to do nothing.

An innovator comes up with a novel workable idea; and the entrepreneur makes it happen. I don’t know who thought of the idea, but I know that Doris made it happen.

The novel idea was to fly fish by airplane from an area with a glut of fish to an area waiting for fish to process. So if Bristol Bay had too many fish to handle, why not fly them by the plane load to Cook Inlet where the plants were waiting for their fish. Then when Cook Inlet is glutted, fly their fish to the plants in Bristol Bay which are winding down their operations. A novel and gutsy idea!

Many things needed to happen. Many things could go wrong. But Doris looked at this challenge the way she always looked at such challenges with a “why not? not “why?” perspective. She made some phone calls to the Arizona desert and discovered that DC-3s, 4s, and 6s where sitting there still operable. She also knew the Vietnam war was winding down and young pilots who had returned, were still itching to fly.

So she made it happen – hiring pilots, paying licensing fees, leasing planes, renting tarmac space at small airports, buying fish totes and bringing it all to Alaska. People thought she was crazy. I was one of them.
However, not only was it profitable for our company, but she set the stage for an industry of flying fish which continues to this day.

There were lots of risks – too many to discuss in this simple article– but I did learn some things from working with a master risk-taker. Next week I'll share nine things I learned in hopes that it will help you as you, whether you're more like Doris or more like me. Come back next week for Lessons I learned from a risk taker - Part 2:
  1. Tolerance
  2. Comfort with chaos
  3. Adaptability
  4. Communication
  5. Togetherness
  6. Acceptance of failure
  7. There is always another day
  8. It is all about the customer
  9. Leadership
I am looking for a lot of men with an infinite capacity for not knowing what can't be done. – Henry Ford

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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BAM and the end of poverty

Sunday, May 08, 2016

An indelible image in my mind while growing up in northern Canada was of grown men sleeping in our town’s Greyhound bus station with no place to go and nothing to eat. Years later while living in tropical Brazil our family saw poverty as we had never seen it before. As I have traveled the world, many images are burned into my mind of ragged children begging for food, of adults scrounging for anything they can find in garbage heaps in Latin America, Africa and Asia; of mothers lying on the streets with dying infants in their arms. All of these images and many more represent the 40% of the world’s population living on less than $2.50 per day and crammed into the slums of the world’s great cities.

What am I supposed to think? How did Jesus think? What do the scriptures teach? One thing is for sure – if I had a dollar for every time I have heard the utterance of Jesus, “the poor you will always have with you” as a defense for lack of action, I would be quite wealthy I think. Certainly he was not saying, “Don’t worry about such things, it is clearly God’s will.” Such illogic flies in the face of all the rest of Biblical teaching.

Jesus may have been quoting Deuteronomy 15:11 but it was as a call to action, “…open your hand freely to your poor and to your needy kin…”God cares about the poor and charity (to address immediate needs) is clearly an important principle for all of us as demonstrated by Jesus. However charity is not enough; it does not solve problems in the long run. Poverty will not be solved by massive redistribution of wealth (as proposed by some church councils and major governments). Poverty will be eased and dignity restored when root causes are addressed and we encourage a hand up rather than a hand out. Addressing poverty in a responsible way is a part of how we live out the kingdom of God in our day.

Theologian Wayne Grudem states it well, “…I believe the only long-term solution to world poverty is business. That is because business produces goods, and businesses produce jobs. And businesses continue producing goods year after year, and continue providing jobs and paying wages year after year. Therefore if we are ever going to see long-term solutions to world poverty, I believe it will come through starting and maintaining productive, profitable business." (Wayne Grudem, 2003)1

The BAM Think Tank task force addressed these issues in their report, Business as Mission and the End of Poverty. Most of us may not read this excellently done 74-page report, but you will be happy to know that there is a short version and I highly recommend it. Check it out at: http://businessasmission.com/bam-end-poverty. It is a wonderful summary of why the issue of poverty is a central focus of Business as Mission.

BAM is a key demonstration of obedience to the Great Commandment of Jesus to “love your neighbor.” It is the modern equivalent of Jesus asking the poor and disenfranchised, “What do you want?” (Mark 10:51)2  Their answer: a good job.3

For further insights on this subject I recommending reading and viewing:

1 Grudem, Wayne. Business for the Glory of God –The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business

2 “What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." (Mark 10:51)

3 Clifton, Jim. The Coming Jobs War

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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The best BAM resource library!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

It has been awhile since I have updated a list of resources for Business as Mission. However, Jo Plummer from the Business As Mission Resource Team at BusinessAsMission.com has done an excellent job putting this list of resources together. It includes videos, articles and papers, books, and links to events and training courses. I suggest that the following link be reviewed and that each reader pick a resource to get to know: Business As Mission Resource Library (http://businessasmission.com/library/).

Some of the new ones that I recommend from this list are:


BAM Talks videos produced by IBEC together with leading BAM practioners


Business for Transformation by Patrick Lai

From Aid to Trade by Daniel Jean-Louis & Jacqueline Klamer

Anything written by Mats Tunehag and Bill Job is worth reading.

Another book which simply sets the stage on Business as Mission is:

A Better Way: Making Disciples Wherever Life Happens by Dale Losch

Not all Christians are called tofull time ministry,” but all are called to minister full time. The growing global Business as Mission movement increasingly engages today’s Christians – like the Moravians of old – in God’s global mission, creating opportunities to minster full time and to make a difference in the lives of people and societies – spiritually, economically, socially and environmentally.

William Jones, Chairman of the Board - Coca Cola Bottling Company

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission