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7 lessons for business entrepreneurs from the World Series

Sunday, November 26, 2017
7 lessons for business entrepreneurs from the World Series

It is a mystery to most of the world how a little-known USA sport like baseball can have as its culminating event called the “World Series”. Most everyone outside North America equates “World” with the “World Cup” of international soccer (football to them) which is truly “world”. Nevertheless, baseball remains an intriguing sport played by millions in the USA, with most citizens giving attention to its conclusion each October.

In the late-night hours of November 1, 2017 a team that almost nobody had predicted to win, defeated the favored and experienced Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven-game series. The Houston Astros did it despite a payroll about one-half that of the Dodgers, and just four years earlier were the laughingstock of professional baseball having lost more than 100 games in each of the three years before 2014.

I love the metaphors of the sporting world which can sometimes be useful when applying to other institutions or events closer to most of us – such as starting a business or building one to success. These traits struck me during October of this year.

1. Little things matter.
In baseball as in most things, one must give attention to details. Certainly, the Astros did when they signed Francisco Liriano in July as a left-handed reliever. Liriano was not a major player and was brought on to the team to play a small part in the bullpen. He soon observed a team that embraced him and did so many “little things right”. He only faced one batter in each of games 6 and 7 – a small but important time, place and role.

Similarly, in business, the smallest of decisions or choices can be keys to success. What if Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Batstone, had not paid attention to a newspaper article in Berkley, CA about the enslaved workers at his favorite restaurant? Such a little thing led to the Not For Sale movement which focuses on liberating those enslaved in several countries.1

2. A team has chemistry and culture.
Liriano said upon his arrival “…we have a team, a real team…it’s not everybody trying to play individually. Everyone is playing for each other and has each others’ back. The MVP (World Series Most Valuable Player) George Springer stated, “…our team believed in each other all year.” And all-star Jose Altuve noted “…a lot of diversity and good relationships between players and coaches with everybody.” Management opened up to sharing data with players. In decision after decision, as pitcher Dallas Keuchel says, “each player became a person.” A phenomenal esprit de corps developed, which was visible to all who watched. And, thus, the team – with great chemistry and culture – won the championship.

My wife’s nephew is an engineer and team leader at Google in Mountain View, CA. The campus resembles a world class resort and perks include free food from its many restaurants. "The culture is amazing. Each employee does not mind helping the other out if they are stuck. I feel it is encouraged to reach out to others,” observes one engineer. Google is consistently rated a company with an excellent culture and team chemistry.

3. They had a goal.
During the three years of 2011 – 2013 the Astros lost a total of 324 games. They essentially started from scratch in 2014 with important operational decisions. Altuve recently told ESPN, “I think I was the only one in 2011, ’12 and ’13, those 100 losses – three years in a row. It’s not easy. But I think I kind of like believed the process.” Altuve exemplifies employee engagement. The best employees will be the ones that stick with you through the good times and the bad. Success is the bottom line. The Astros had a relentless focus on results, on winning. And that meant getting to the Series through wins and winning four out of seven games once there.

Freedom businesses can be considered social enterprises because of their clear goal – to keep women and children from human slavery and to liberate as many as possible from the human trafficking industry. Such a goal is measurable and systems of accountability exist for it. All BAM businesses need goals which can be measured and for which they can be held accountable. It is a privilege for IBEC consultants to help freedom businesses.

4. Good leadership.
Jeff Luhnow joined the team in 2011 as General Manager and as an entrepreneur with an MBA. He started to modernize the organization. That began the process of becoming a cutting-edge baseball operations machine, so much so that Sports Illustrated in 2014 predicted a Houston World Series by 2017. By 2015 they were chosen to have the Best Farm System in baseball by the MiLB. AJ Hinch, with a psychology degree from Stanford, was hired in Sept 2014 and had an early talk with Altuve, "We talked a lot about getting better," Hinch said. "We talked about the 100-loss seasons. We talked about the grind that had taken its toll. I asked him one question: 'Why don't we talk about winning?'" The culture began to change – instead of focusing on the errors of the past they focused on a goal – winning! And win they did – beating out the big boys of baseball history, the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

I often think of the story of Bill Job in China whose employees would call him the “best boss in all of China.” Such a description often embarrassed him as he realized that such an accolade is ill-defined and impossible to prove. But the facts are clear – Bill treated his employees with dignity, respect and fairness. He always challenged them to learn new things and be a significant part in building the company. He is a good leader and they love to work for him.

5. Data is important.
Sometimes managers manage from their gut and to be sure some of that is important, but success for Houston also involved data and analytics. Both team management and players bought into the importance of both gathering and using data in decisions about personnel, policies, and practices. The drive toward the use of analytics began with Billy Beane’s Oakland A's and it was used with last years’ Chicago Cubs. Some think Houston is the best at it today.

The May 2014 BAM Global Think Tank Report, How Are We Doing: Measuring the Impact and Performance of BAM Businesses, states “Good metrics are a compass that enables good leaders to stay on track”. This is true upstream and downstream in a business. IBEC uses data generated by many different entities in the planning process; for example, the World Bank’s “Doing Business” data2 on most every country in the world. Such data helps in making decisions in starting and building the BAM company. When it comes to the downstream of measuring success, the obvious financial analytics of P&L, Balance Sheet etc. are important but so are ministry indicators such as self-designed opportunities for living out the gospel with both incarnation and proclamation.

6.It takes balanced talent.
There is good management and bad management. Good management picks good draft picks and Houston did – young guys like Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman. They went after a dynamic core of young offensive talent and brought on old-timers who could lead, mentor and be source of wisdom and maturity, like Justin Verlander and Carlos Beltran. Young and Old! Untested talent and Experienced Stars! All were important to this balanced team.

Brittany joined a BAM team in Azerbaijan and brought significant skills in coffee roasting and retail. However, she realized that she needed capital developers, managers, operational people, marketers, HR experts, accountants and legal advice. Before long a team emerged and the result after the application of varied skills and much hard work – a roasting company with two successful stores.

Perseverance can be described as ”…steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” Three years from 2014 to 2017 can seem like a long time but perhaps Cameron Maybin said it best on winning night. “We battled, we persevered, we never gave up.” Another said that there were no shortcuts; there was plenty of pain.”

Whether it be Wintston Churchill’s famous “never give up” speech to parliament, or a sport like baseball, perseverance is important in the success of a business. It takes long steadfast trial and error to achieve success – in understanding the customer, in perfecting the product and in developing human potential. Never Give Up!

One of the first entrepreneur’s I advised was a fellow named Lee who started a business in a former Soviet Republic. He partnered with a local attorney and within two years the partner took off with all the money in the bank and the business folded. I called him to express my sorrow and asked what he was going to do, thinking he may return to Florida. Lee quickly responded, “I have already gone down the street and rented another office and incorporated another company”. Lee was a persevering BAMer. He never would give up.

Whether it is baseball or another sport or an endeavor such as business in developing unreached countries “for the glory of God” we do well to consider these seven lessons.

1. Not for Sale
2. Doing Business 2018 http://www.doingbusiness.org/

Remembering the goodness of God

Sunday, November 19, 2017
Good Stewardship is critical for Business as Mission

As we begin this week of celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S., I'm thankful for my friend Doug Nichols for sharing these 20 verses and thankful for the freedom to share a few of the things we at IBEC Ventures are grateful for. Blessings over you and your families as we reflect on God's goodness.

1. 1 Thessalonians 5:18  In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

2. Philippians 4:6-7  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

IBEC continually makes requests for our overseas projects and we thank God for answered prayer - for protection and for success in business, job creation and in making disciples of Jesus.

3. Psalm 28:7  The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.

4. Psalm 106:1  Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, or He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!

IBEC is thankful for new clients in the agricultural sector – poultry and soy beans in Africa, rice in Indonesia and nut production in Asia.

5. Psalm 100:4  Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!

IBEC recently sign an agreement for a continued relationship with a major client – we give “thanks to Him…bless His name!”

6. Colossians 4:2  Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

7. Colossians 3:17  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

This is a verse which drives the validity of business for the glory of God, along with the parallel verse in I Cor 10:31.

8. Psalm 95:2  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!

9. Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

How thankful we are for a strong team of consultants and a great gathering for training in August.

10. 1 Chronicles 29:13 And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious name.

There is no greater reason for gratitude than a new follower of Jesus as reported by a client high in the Himalayan mountains.

11. Psalm 105:1-2  Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; tell of all His wondrous works! And give thanks to His holy name.

IBEC is driven by the quadruple bottom line, one of which is to make His deeds known to the unreached of the world.

12. Psalm 69:30  I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.

13. 2 Corinthians 4:15  For all things are for your sake, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

“All things” for IBEC means profitable businesses so that jobs are created and people brought out of poverty and injustice.

14. Psalm 9:1  I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders.

15. Psalm 107:8-9  Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.

IBEC gives thanks for freedom businesses which bring enslaved women and children out of human trafficking and give satisfaction to thirsty souls.

16. Jeremiah 33:11a  The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, “Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting”.

17. Hebrews 12:28  Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.

IBEC is thankful with great gratitude that we operate within a balanced budget as reported at our annual Board meetings this month.

18. 1 Timothy 4:4-5  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

19. 2 Samuel 22:50  Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the nations, and I will sing praises to Your name.

IBEC gives thanks for a foundation which helps IBEC with important projects – we thank them and God!

20. 1 Chronicles 16:34  O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

The Barnhart Crane and Rigging story: safeguards for BAM entrepreneurs and owners

Saturday, November 11, 2017
Good Stewardship is critical for Business as Mission

This week I was walking through Magnuson Park along Lake Washington in Seattle, when I came upon some heavy equipment – really heavy equipment - marked “Barnhart”. The largest vehicle there carried a crane capable of lifting 550 tons; that’s roughly equivalent of 275 of my Toyotas, or the weight of two of the largest train locomotives in service today. What is this Barnhart company?

Owner and President Alan Barnhart tells it this way. “It is God’s story and how he uses ordinary people,” and how a “mom and pop operation” working out of the family garage become one of the country’s largest companies known for “picking up and moving heavy things”.

All of us who are followers of Jesus are in full-time ministry

Alan and brother/partner Eric grew up in a Christian home in Memphis, TN and attended a church which believed in the Great Commission. Fellow believers saw that Alan loved Jesus and wanted to follow him, so the default response was that he should “go into full-time ministry”. But early on, by God’s grace and providence, Alan discovered that he was gifted more in business and engineering than in preaching and teaching. It propelled him to the truth that “all of us who are followers of Jesus are in full-time ministry.”

Biblical safeguards

As the brothers assumed ownership of the company from their dad and things began to prosper 1, Alan and his wife, Katherine decided they must study the Bible to understand what it said about money. He came to realize that everything they had comes from God and they are stewards of it all; and they learned to “fear wealth”, because Jesus said it was hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven and Paul said you can take nothing with you when you die.2 Three safeguards were put in place and have guided the two families since then, and are instructive for all entrepreneurs and business owners:
  1. God owns the business; it does not belong to us but we are stewards of it.
  2. They set a lifestyle and salary cap (for them this meant they set their salaries at the mean salary of middle class members of the Sunday School class at church).
  3. Accountability was put into place so that they maintained adherence to the above and put the fruits of the labors into advancing the kingdom of God.
The Barnhart brothers are known for growing a company with excellence of service, commitment to giving, and evident obedience to God’s word. Says, Alan, “…the alternative to consumption is kingdom living.” He uses a military metaphor to explain that “the army cook should not eat better than the troops.” As the company routinely gave away over half of their income to advance the kingdom (as much as $1 million per month), the blessing of God just increased. Today they still operate and grow the business but 100% of it is in a charitable trust.

And their kids did not grow up as rich kids for which the adult children are grateful to their parents today. Alan likes to use tool and toy terminology. A toy is something we would buy for our own pleasure, comfort or fun. A tool is something we buy that God can use in His service.

Tools not toys

As a family, they try to minimize the investment in toys and maximize the investment in tools. One example of an investment is the international travel they have done as a family with the result that their children have seen the needs of the world and what God is doing in other cultures. To them an inheritance for the children is faith, education, abilities and motivation.

The moral of the story for all entrepreneurs and business owners is not the details but the Barnhart principles of stewardship, a lifestyle cap and the appropriate accountability.

1 The company grew 25% a year for 23 years in the 80s and 90s and today is valued at over $250 million and has over 1,000 employees in the US.
2 Matthew 19:23; I Timothy 6:7

Jobs as justice

Saturday, November 04, 2017
Business as Mission promotes justice by creating jobs

For some years I taught at a graduate school on the West Coast. I note that they now have a Master’s degree in Justice with courses such as Theological Foundations, Social Justice, The History of Justice and similar topics. I also note the content of entire conferences on Christian justice with themes related to chasing justice, theology of justice, justice as worship, peacemaking, and Christian community. All good things to be sure – but noticeably lacking – jobs as justice!

According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the Hebrew words tsedeq and mishpat and the Greek dikaiosyne are all used to describe “justice” in the Bible. These words are interchangeable with the words for “righteousness.” Jim Wallis affirms that “…the clear meaning of “justice” is “what is right” or “what is normal” — the way things are supposed to be.”1;

He continues, “One of the clearest and most holistic words for justice is the Hebrew shalom, which means both “justice” and “peace.” Shalom includes “wholeness,” or everything that makes for people’s well-being, security, and, in particular, the restoration of relationships that have been broken. Justice, therefore, is about repairing broken relationships both with other people and to structures — of courts and punishments, money and economics, land and resources, and kings and rulers.”

“Employer-employee relationships could be brought into the idea of shalom as well — fixing what has been unfair, unjust, or exploitative. Economic systems, structures, and interactions can be judged by how they serve or destroy good and healthy relationships.”

The Gallup Corporation surveyed over 150 nations in their renowned World Poll of major issues of life. They wanted to “…discover the single most dominant thought on most people’s minds….” Says CEO Jim Clifton, “Six years into our global data collection effort, we may have already found the single most searing, clarifying, helpful, world-altering fact. What the whole world wants is a good job.”2

Consider the world conditions of today – extreme poverty (30% of the world living on less than $2 a day), unemployment in some countries over 50%, victimization and exploitation such as human trafficking, disease, wars on several fronts, natural disasters and persecution. Job creation will not heal all of this but growing economies creating good jobs brings dignity, opportunity for positive relationships and the ultimate transformation of individuals and communities. God created humans to work and be productive (Gen 1:28), to work heartily ’as for the Lord and not men’ (Col 3:23) and “…shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father…” (Matt 5:16). This all takes place in the marketplace of work.

Many situations where righteousness, justice and shalom are lacking could be corrected with meaningful employment. The poor could be fed and clothed, the powerless would have dignity, disease would be ameliorated, and relationships healed. None of this is perfect, but it is in the direction of what Jesus called righteous living; it would be transformative.
Poverty Cure, a division of the Acton Institute,3 has many resources which promote a good understanding of “what causes wealth?”, a better question than “what causes poverty?” Every modern institution – education, government, and the church consumes wealth. Only one institution creates wealth – business! And wealth creation is a God-given ability (Deut. 8:18).

It is time to move away from so much focus on distribution of wealth in the world and focus on its creation. It is time to move:

  • From aid to enterprise.
  • From poverty alleviation to wealth creation.
  • From paternalism to partnerships.
  • From handouts to investments.
  • From seeing the poor as consumers or burdens to seeing them as creators.
  • From viewing people and economies as experiments to pursuing solidarity with the poor.
  • From viewing the poor as recipients of charity to acknowledging them as agents of change with dignity, capacity, and creativity.
  • From encouraging dependency to integrating the poor into networks of productivity and exchange.
  • From subsidies and protectionism to open trade and competition.
  • From seeing the global economy as a fixed pie to understanding that human enterprise can grow economies.

Justice has many facets and to be sure there are no easy answers. But job creation for sure should be in the mix of answers. Business, free markets and entrepreneurship are keys to prosperity, economic growth and justice for the poor. Let us do all we can to empower the poor with jobs, limit foreign and church “aid” (certainly some is needed in time of crisis), and stimulate small business – and all within the moral context of Biblical justice and the teaching of Jesus.

1 Jim Wallis,How The Bible Understands Justice.
2 Jim Clifton, The Coming Jobs War, p.10
3 Poverty Cure: www.povertycure.org

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission