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Sustaining vision for an abundant life

Monday, December 15, 2014

Entrepreneur and IBEC Board member, Dave Kier reflects on purpose in what we do.  At this time of year, young entrepreneurs may wonder if all the work and uncertainty are worth it.  They may be trying to live one day at a time, having lost the vision to “change the world”.  The story that Dave relates below may encourage you to push on to a better future and not give up.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10b NASB®

Earlier this year I renewed an old acquaintance who was a POW during the Vietnam War. Just five days before he was to return home, Charlie Plumb was shot down and captured to be tortured and imprisoned in an 8 x 8 cell for 2,103 days in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. (Read the phenomenal story, “I’m No Hero” about how he and 19 other POW’s learned how to keep a disciplined mind never allowing the enemy to get them to feel sorry for themselves and give up.)

In the news of late was a story on our soldiers returning from the Middle East and how disillusioned they are as they return home from fighting a war that took too many lives and left too many limbs behind for what seems to be no purpose.  They return home without declaring victory and then a few are told to go back to war again knowing that victory isn't the objective. Since we fight long drawn out political wars today, our soldiers don’t return to parades with confetti. Instead, they return home as if they punched a time clock for the last time and now must look for another job. The government reports that 22 veterans commit suicide every day - 22!  Even the greatest generation is suffering from this virulent epidemic as possibly they too are now wondering what on earth they fought for.  Many come home today with PTSD. Life for them suddenly lost its purpose. It’s a sad thing that is happening. Very sad. 

 On the other hand, Charlie said that none of the Hanoi Hilton POW’s left suffering with PTSD. How can that be? They were physically and mentally abused for nearly six years.  They couldn't speak to each other. They were constantly told they were forgotten. They had no reason to keep living – except – the faith that they would one day return home. They never stopped believing in God and in their country. They had family they were determined to see.  They had something to live for. They never let go of hope. Charlie came home to spread this message of hope through his experiences. He told me last week that though he could now retire, he is already filling up his speaking schedule for next year (Click here to watch videos highlights from talks and interviews).  He has to get the message out – a message of hope!

It seems to me that we try to manage life today rather than build it. We recently interviewed a man for a job and the longer we talked, the more enthusiastic he became as he talked about how he loved to make work easier and more productive. Most managers interviewed talk about how they manage or maintain work.  Too many people wake up to make it through another day instead of waking up to make today better than yesterday. It seems as if even those of faith are also losing their sense of purpose.  Jesus didn't create us and give His life for us so we could make it through another day.  Jesus came to give hope and He gave us His Spirit to enable us to press on.  Jesus came to reveal to us a future to live for.  Jesus came to give life – not existence – abundant life!  

David Kier, Owner of DFS Feeds and IBEC Ventures Board Member

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Part 2: Entrepreneurs, business developers...or both?

Monday, December 08, 2014


Last week Dave Kier surfaced the question of “Leadership” versus “Followership”.  He drew a distinction between the founder (or entrepreneur) in a business and a manager.  He talked about leaders and followers.  In Part 2 of this theme we consider the importance of all types in the development of a Kingdom business team.

Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller, Outliers, says, “No one — not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses — ever makes it alone.”  He makes the case that success has a high correlation with the opportunities offered and the people in our path.  As an example he cites the teacher who allowed Bill Gates unlimited access to a time shared terminal in 1968.  That teacher created a differentiation for Mr. Gates and gave him the boost he needed for greatness.

Gladwell continues, “The people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.”  We often think of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.  But do we credit the impact of Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes?  Of course Steve Jobs had his Steve Wozniak and John Sculley. Walt Disney had Roy Disney, Fred Harmon and Margaret Winkler.  Bill Gates had his high school buddies Paul Allen, Ric Weiland and Kent Evans and college friend Steve Ballmer.

Dale Losch in his book, A Better Way – Making Disciples Wherever Life Happens, 2 talks about the whole body of believers and differing roles in business start ups.  He refers to “ground-breakers” — pioneers who are ready to be agents of change (p. 125).   These are the entrepreneurs who seek out opportunities and strategies.  Their new ideas, methods, directions and opportunities break new ground— for the business and for making disciples on the spiritual frontiers.

Losch continues by describing the “business developer” — men and women who have the ability and experience to develop and grow profitable and sustainable business opportunities.  They have exceptional business, organizational, human resource or leadership skills. They strive for results and are accountable for both the business growth and for making disciples.

Entrepreneur Ernesto Sirolli suggests that God has never created a person who can do all of the following: “make it; sell it; and keep track of the money.”  He continues to make the case for a business team to fulfill the dream of the entrepreneur. 3

So what does this mean for Business as Mission start ups?  Just as “it takes a whole village to raise a child,” so it takes a team to start and grow a business.  It takes leaders and it takes followers; it takes all kinds of people of character; people with capacity to learn and grow and work together.  

Good to Great author, Jim Collins, refers to insuring having the “right people on the bus.” Collins insists that “great vision without great people is irrelevant” and he says great companies define the right person as a person with character and innate capabilities, that being more important than knowledge, background and skills.  But the point is — a bus with a visionary driver is not accomplishing much unless there are people on the bus — the right people!  

Let us determine as we build Kingdom businesses that we take the time and care for everyone necessary for success.  Most people will not be the boss or the entrepreneur or the leader; they may be the accountant, the IT expert, the marketer, the language and culture expert, the product developer and so on.  We are in this together — for business success and for Kingdom results.


1  Gladwell, Malcom. Outliers: The Story of Success, Little, Brown and Co., 2008
2  Losch, Dale. A Better Way:  Making Disciples Wherever Life Happens, UFM International, 2012
3  http://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen?language=en
4  An African proverb
5  Collins, Jim. Good to Great.  Harper Collins Publishers, 2001


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Part 1: Leadership and Followership

Monday, December 01, 2014


Again we share the insightful thoughts of entrepreneur David Kier, owner of DFS Feeds and an IBEC board member.  His thoughtful wisdom reveals an important concern for Business as Mission start-ups: do we emphasis the entrepreneurial leader at the expense of the business builder? This is Part 1 of a two part series on the importance of a team in a business start up.                          

The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.

It is enough for students to be like their teachers and servants like their masters.”

Matthew 10:24-25 NIV


In business we speak a great deal about the importance of leadership.  At a recent Business as Mission conference the emphasis was on the entrepreneur, that trail blazer who goes to distant lands to become a leader by starting a business.  Thousands of books are written on leadership, but not many on “followership” - except in God’s spoken word written for us. The media focuses on that leader who leads the charge into all kinds of situations. Kind of strange isn’t it? Most of us are followers not leaders. Oh, we are all leaders in some fashion but not all bear the title in the workplace, in church, on the team, and so on.

Not many of us are cut out to be the person who skillfully directs a group of people to become super effective.  Let me tell you a little secret: most of us entrepreneurs aren’t good leaders – as if you didn’t know already! We are great doers…but not necessarily great leaders. We’re a frustrated lot. I read in a business book years back that “Inside every business, there is someone slowly going crazy.” That someone is the founder! He just wants to go and do things and build something and not mess with all the details or figure out how to get people to understand their jobs. 

Jesus gave a very important principle for life and one we have trouble with in the world that highlights the leader: it’s okay to be a follower. It’s a great thing to be second in command or not in command at all.  If you are young, first be an awesome student of the organization and don’t worry about becoming a manager. Learn the culture. Learn the business. Learn the people and in so doing, learn yourself and who you are.  If you turn out to be one that can be given the charge over a group of people – well – you will still have to keep learning and be under more pressure. 

We all are accountable to someone. One of the greatest lessons learned in life is to know who you are and understand and accept your position in life. Another lesson:  if you can’t submit to God, you will likely have difficulty submitting to your fellowman.  Follow well today.

David Kier, Owner of DFS Feeds and IBEC Ventures Board Member

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Giving thanks

Monday, November 24, 2014

Today I received a text from our youngest daughter Trudy, “Back on US soil! Just landed in DC.”  I am very thankful today.  She had been in harm’s way this past month, serving the 1.7 million refugees in Northern Iraq as an HR Director for her organization.  Two days ago a suicide bomber killed several in her city.  Why does she go to places like this?

This week I read an article describing the book For Love of Country by Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) and Rajiv Chandrasekaran.1 The book honors the veterans who have served our country and provided heroic examples of sacrifice, bravery and courage. Says Schultz and Chandrasekaran, “To do right by our veterans, to recognize their value to our society and fulfill our solemn obligation to those who volunteered to protect us – we first have to understand what they have accomplished.”

How do we understand those who volunteer to be in harm’s way so they can serve us and others?  Certainly we are thankful for active military and veterans, especially in this month when we celebrate Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day.  The authors of For Love of Country assert that it is not enough to say “thank you” at an airport or stand for an ovation at a baseball game – “we first have to understand what they have accomplished.”

The same goes for aid workers like Trudy...and the same goes for entrepreneurs and business developers in difficult countries.  I am thankful for each one and in this short blog.  I will not provide much of an understanding, but in some small way I want to recognize some people I met this month who have started small businesses in countries with much poverty, high unemployment and severe injustices.2 These examples represent the kinds of businesses served by IBEC and organizations like us:

  • John operates a farm project in the former Soviet dominated country of K, with 350 employees – providing food for a poor country and offering an understanding of what it means to know Jesus.
  • An employee of an IT company in South Asia with 60 employees affirmed, “…the company is making a difference in people’s lives…I have come to know God.”
  • An owner of a coffee shop chain in Asia who employees more than 20 deaf workers affirms that he is creating jobs among the disadvantaged and also sharing what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
  • Monica's Foodsproduces healthy organic baby products and demonstrates the quadruple bottom line (profitable company, 20 jobs created, spiritual vitality, and stewards of creation).
  • Classic Piesin a large Middle Eastern city contributes to multiculturalism, the sharing of biblical faith and the creation of jobs in the food industry.
  • Modern Media2 is a multi-disciplined media start up within an emerging market in central Asia.  They create a vision for local talent, support traditional art forms and are helping transform their community one neighborhood at a time.
  • Jim and Susi's Middle Eastern textile factory grew to 400 employees but nearly collapsed after Arab Spring.  Today they demonstrate principle-based decision making to the community as they rebuild the company.
  • Dean owns a tour company in south Asia where he hires local guides to lead the tours.  The guides are curious about western tourists as well as the owners’ religious commitment to Jesus of Nazareth.

This week is Thanksgiving week in America (Canada celebrated in October).  I am thankful for thousands of people who start and operate businesses which give value, dignity and hope to victims of injustice.  They provide hope for a job, for a better life, and for an understanding of the God of the universe.  Thank you all!

1  Schultz, Howard and Chandrasekaran, Rajiv, For Love of Country, Alfred A. Knopf, 2014

Names and places have been disguised out of respect for individuals’ desires.


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Who else besides IBEC Ventures is in this BAM space?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Today I was contacted by a bright young man in the banking industry.  A university graduate in banking and finance, he has just completed his second year with a major bank.  He asked me, “How can I use my experience and training to help make a difference with what you are doing?”  We talked for a long time about IBEC’s purpose and vision and how we were linking people like him with kingdom companies in countries with great need for jobs and Jesus.

Someone told him about IBEC as he had never heard of us before. When talking about who we are and what we do, I assured him that we are not the only ones with this vision to link God’s people with business skills with entrepreneurial business start ups in high risk countries.  I then thought it might be useful to list “some” of the entities with which we cooperate or are philosophically aligned.  First a reminder of our purpose and vision:

IBEC’s Purpose

IBEC helps build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.

IBEC’s Vision

We envision an increasing number of Small-Medium sustainable Kingdom businesses with our special emphasis on areas that are both economically impoverished and spiritually unreached.

Check out these websites

These are “some” entities (there are others) which are working in the same space as IBEC Ventures, approaching the building of kingdom businesses from different angles but all pursuing profit-making, sustainable, job-creating, disciple-making businesses.

If you know others who could use this information, please let them know about this weekly blog as well as our regular updates on our social media sites:
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Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

 

What are my next steps?

Monday, November 10, 2014


“What advice would you give a young man like me?”

This question came to me following a talk I gave last week at a Business as Mission conference in the Midwest. I had just spoken to a group of 25 young professionals and a recent graduate of a state agricultural university came up to me and gave a little background of his training and his work with a major agricultural trading company. He explained his love of agriculture and wondered how he could use his skill set and his passion for business to make Jesus known. 

My ideas can be summed up in five easy to remember ‘P’ steps:

1. Person

Each of us is uniquely created with a God-given wiring which includes our personality, interests, gifts, experiences and heart.  The first step then for each of us is to understand this and have others validate it.  My young friend knew he was wired for agricultural business and he told me, “I want to live my life for God and am willing to do whatever He would have me to do.”  Great start!  He understands WHO he is.

2. Purpose

The next step is to understand God’s ultimate purpose - He wants all peoples to worship Him.  A well-known attorney once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in the law was.  Jesus responded, “Love the Lord our God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  He added another which is the second great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:36-40).  Later on Jesus reminded His followers to help others come to follow Him too (Matthew 28:19).

Now the question is how to bring all of this together with integrity and ensure we are living the integrated life with our profession.  People must see God in the way we are living our life in the marketplace.  What we are on the inside is the same as how we act on the outside. Most of us are not called to leave the marketplace – but to fulfill our wiring in ways to accomplish God’s purposes. Loving God! Loving our neighbor!  Bringing others to follow him! This is the WHY for life.

For those of us in business, we love God by living honestly and with excellence; we can love our neighbor by creating jobs; we can show others how to follow Jesus by living our lives with kingdom values.   That is our purpose – we need to start now where we are – and then that becomes a transferable model to all places on earth.  This short video helps demonstrate this:  http://vimeo.com/73684887

3. Product

This next step builds on the first one – WHO we are – and asks “WHAT do I have to contribute in the marketplace?”  We are all producing members of society.  Every business has a product which is offered to the customer.  Every individual brings his/her ability to produce something which the business and the marketplace needs.

My friend has discovered that he has the ability to trade agricultural commodities for the benefit of his large trading firm but also to the benefit of the ultimate consumer.  He has a key part in the business transactional process.  He understands what he brings to the marketplace.  He sees the big picture – from the farmer in the field planting his grain to the ultimate vision, the end product – feeding the hungry of the world.  In short this third ‘P’ requires a clear understanding of how we fit in the grand scheme of ultimate purpose.

4. Plan

Most successful endeavors require a plan – the strategic understanding of HOW to achieve the purpose of the business and person.  In terms of the next steps described here, a plan could involve:

  1. Keeping current on our profession being excellent in everything.
  2. Doing all we can to understand our part in Business as Mission by reading websites like www.businessasmission.com; www.understandbam.com; www.agoraenterprises.org; www.thirdpathinitiative.com; www.ibecventures.com.
  3. Reading books like The Integrated Life, Ken Eldred; God is at Work, Ken Eldred; Globalization, Bob Roberts; Business as Mission, Mike Baer.
  4. Taking a trip to a kingdom business in a foreign country to see for yourself how it works and seek to contribute to company needs.  Check out the videos on IBEC’s website.
  5. Being an advocate for an integrated life in your company, community and church by promoting seminars and a NewVo Business (www.newvobusiness.com) chapter.
  6. Attending a BAM conference. Contact:  info@ibecventures.com for some ideas.
  7. Get involved in some place in the world.

5. Place

The final step is a natural progression from the Plan – i.e. get involved.  That does not necessarily mean you move to some faraway place.  Take some small steps first. It can involve connecting with an overseas business, explaining your expertise and offering to be a consultant, a coach or a Subject Matter Expert.  For example our friend with experience, interest and training in the agricultural sector may want to connect with an agriculture business in Asia – helping with trading/marketing their product.  The place of involvement depends on the opportunities at the moment, the individual’s interests, the timing, and willingness to take the next step.  This is the WHERE of involvement.  IBEC Ventures can help with these connections.

By following these five “easy” sequential steps one will find that they are not easy in the sense that challenges and hurdles will surface; but the rewards in the end will be without equal.  We will be living our lives in missional, integrated ways – all the while bringing “love” to the needy and Jesus to the unreached.


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Business As Mission: what do I have to offer?

Sunday, November 02, 2014


This question is sometimes asked by North American kingdom business persons who own or manage businesses: “What can I offer as consultant, advisor, mentor or coach?”  It is a natural question for business persons living and working in a very different context from a business startup in Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

What is business anyway? Is it not something like this: an organization with appropriate management that provides a good or service and is created to earn a profit, serve customers and create jobs, community value and increase wealth? That is universal. Followers of Jesus have an integrated kingdom perspective in all they do (1 Corinthians 10:31) so they operate businesses for the glory of God. Faith is integrated into daily work.

A person who has owned a small or medium-sized business (or has worked in the management of such) has likely learned a great deal about one or more of the following. The things that have been learned can be passed on in a consulting, coaching, teaching or mentoring venue.

Entrepreneurial Ability

  1. What are the hurdles faced in starting something from nothing?
  2. How did you go about finding your niche in the business world?
  3. How does one identify risk takers - or how did you experiment and take risk?
  4. Can you help someone know if they “have it or they don’t”?

 Strategic Thinking and Planning

  1. Can you help a person to think clearly, looking for business opportunities?
  2. How do you find the information you need for decision making?
  3. Can you help a person frame out their idea within the components of business?
  4. Can you walk through a simple business plan with someone who has never done it?
  5. Can you help envision who the customer is and what he might pay for product?

 Management of People

  1. Do you know how to find good people?  Can you teach that skill to someone?
  2. What have you learned about HR laws that you can pass along?
  3. Can you teach conversational coaching so they process answers rather than just being told?
  4. Do you know “best practices” for getting people to produce in a positive work environment?
  5. Can you help someone with personal time management?

 Product Development

  1. In a changing world, can you teach someone to keep their product viable in the marketplace?
  2. Have you learned to experiment without assuming too much financial loss?
  3. Can you teach someone to produce and sell your particular product?
  4. Can you teach someone the basics of business “research and development”?
  5. Can you teach someone how to learn from the experience of others?

 Marketing

  1. Are there marketing principles you have learned which you can pass on?
  2. Can you help someone understand the difference between marketing and sales?
  3. Have you used the media, sales reps, social media, ingenuity?   How?
  4. Can you teach someone how to promote their product?
  5. How do you know what ‘sells’?  How do you listen to the marketplace?  Establish pricing?

 Operations

  1. Can you ask key questions relative to insurance, benefits, salaries, accounting software, etc.?
  2. Can you teach someone how to work with an assistant?
  3. What are some tips for “getting things done in a timely way”?
  4. Can you help someone who is struggling with keeping things organized?
  5. What are signals in the business which you need to note to keep on top of things?

 Financial Oversight

  1. What are some tips for keeping in touch with the overall financial situation of your business?
  2. Can you teach someone the relevance and importance of a P&L, Balance Sheet, Cash Flow Statement?
  3. How do you project out for 1-3 years?  What indicators do you look at?
  4. Do you have tips for a credit strategy?  Amount to borrow?  Payback schedules etc?
  5. Can you teach someone to understand financial reporting?
Technology

  1.  Do you appreciate & understand the value of technology to your business?  Can you pass it on?
  2. Where do you go for help when you need it?
  3. How do you find, hire and keep a trusted IT person?
  4. How do you know when to implement a new IT strategy into your product line?
Legal Matters
 
  1. What have you learned about how to structure things for your business?  Can you pass it on?
  2. Can you teach someone ownership options, tax relevance, where to go for help?
  3. Can you teach someone how to negotiate?
  4. Can you teach “Business Law for Dummies” to help a beginner down the right path?
  5. Can you help the business start up person to ask the right questions?

 Integration of faith and business

  1. Have you learned ways to live out Jesus’ kingdom values on the work site?
  2. What have you learned about making disciples at work?
  3. Do you see your business work place as a place of ministry 24/7?
  4. Do your customers, suppliers, employees, competitors see Jesus in all you do?

 Relationships

  1. Since sometimes it is more about who you know than what you know – how does one keep up effective and productive relationships?
  2. How does a business owner keep a balance between the business detail and ‘networking’?
  3. Do your beliefs and values look the same in the daily experience of life with people?
  4. If you are not a “people person”, how have you learned to compensate for that in business?

You know more than you think!  Business owners in overseas high risk areas have lots of challenges, and many of them are the same challenges you face – you can help with the likes of the above questions – it will make a difference!


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Family, friends and fools: understanding Business as Mission

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This article by IBEC Ventures Training Director Larry Sharp was originally published in CPN On Point.


The last edition of CPN On Point presented an introduction to Business as Mission (BAM), as a means of gaining access to strategic and unreached places through building businesses worldwide. This article takes that discussion to the next and practical level.

Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Every follower of Jesus should examine how God has made him/her as unique – with interests, skills, experiences, spiritual giftedness. These attributes usually relate to a marketplace job. Os Guinness states it well, “…whatever is the heart of our calling is work that fulfills us because it employs our greatest gifts.” Or in the words of Bonnie Wurzbacher, Vice-President of Coca Cola: “You don’t get meaning from your work, you bring meaning to your work.”

Many Christians mistakenly see their work life as distinct and separate from their spiritual life. This is an old error, a remnant of first century dualism, which separated the spiritual from the secular; and the clergy from the laity. Wurzbacher noted that “What we need is to understand the Biblical worldview that says that there is no secular-sacred split and God wants us to understand that what we do should fulfill and advance God’s purposes in the world.”

Christians in business see their work as a testimony and a mission. Michael Cardone, CEO of Cardone Industries says that “service and excellence create a platform to talk about who God is and Jesus Christ.” And “I am not called to be a pastor or missionary; I’m called to be a business man and I see no difference.”

Similarly David Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby notes that “…we try in all decisions to ask what God would have us do…we don’t put our Christian faith on the shelf when we come to work.”

The idea behind Business as Mission (BAM) is to take a concept, and use business in North America as a replicable model to the world. Gil Sheehan, President and a founder of Barrington Gifts talked about his factory in China in these terms: “Everyday on the factory floor is an opportunity for discipleship.” With this business mindset, work is ministry and work is worship – and the “spiritual bottom line” is the numerous employees and community populace who are now following Christ.

Another example is entrepreneur Bill Job, who mentored Barrington Gifts, and started his own company in China which eventually employed over 600 people. He sees business as a replicable structure to reach for eternal value.

These are working models of BAM overseas. But it takes many people to build such a success story. The opportunity to participate is as broad as our business imagination.

The first way to become involved in BAM is the direct use of our business skill and experience. Bill Job once told me that he could have saved several years of his life if he had had some expertise from others to integrate into his efforts.

Business know-how is very much needed by Christian entrepreneurs overseas: management, strategic thinking, human resource management, product development, marketing, financial oversight, accounting, technology, legal, and logistics– all of these skills are needed. A good place to start such an effort would be a trip to a BAM company, to catch the vision for how to make a difference. Once a connection is made, coaching and consulting is mostly accomplished through Skype or other continent-continent communication. IBEC Ventures looks to make such connections between Christians in business and BAM companies overseas.

A second way to become involved is to become a BAM advocate. Young people with an interest in business need to be challenged to integrate faith into their workplace and to consider how they can make a difference on the international stage.

Finally, BAM entrepreneurs need investors. The top two concerns of overseas business owners and entrepreneurs are (i) Financial Capital and (ii) Human Capital.

Just as some of us can go overseas to provide expertise, some can make financial investments in BAM enterprises. Normally, investors seek safe and predictable returns. Investment in startups in countries that most need it – where there are highest levels of poverty, injustice, unemployment, and the most unreached spiritually – is high risk. Such investing is for the courageous, for those convinced that God’s work requires taking a risk.

It has been said that startup businesses get their capital from “Family, Friends and Fools.” Some call this “Love Capital”. In a sense, this is what BAM investors do.

They are family, as we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, adopted into one family from every nation under heaven.

They are friends, available in time of uncertainty, ready to participate.

And they are fools – fools for the sake of Jesus Christ, willing to take on high risk investments that look beyond the accountant’s bottom line to the spiritual bottom line that earns eternal dividends that can never be lost.  

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

A tale of three businesses: the importance of life-long learning

Monday, October 20, 2014

Once upon a time four business people flew to a faraway country in Asia to observe and encourage three kingdom businesses. They came as learners but also ready to share suggestions and consulting expertise as requested.  They represented a cumulative 90 years of business experience, a recent MBA graduate among them and all four were involved in coaching, training and mentoring business startups.   Three were men, one was a woman and they came with robust experience in entrepreneurship, marketing, leadership and finance.

One of the businesses visited was well established, fiscally mature and served the community well with job creation, fiscal and tax responsibility and social engagement.  They had been in business for 15 years and in the startup phase they brought in qualified managers and sought help from business people experienced in the country.  Local mentors provided counsel in the language, culture, social conditions and Business as Mission integration.  There were ups and downs but they consider their success to be closely linked to their willingness to be life-long learners.

The second business also had been in-country for about 15 years. It had created jobs for many people and was making a clear difference in the community where it had respect and credibility with the locals. The owners had built their business model on proven models in other places.  However upon arrival in 2004 the visiting team found that the business was facing significant challenges.  The market had changed and their customer base was changing.  Their cash flow was at risk and they were worried about the future.  They asked the team of four for advice. They knew they needed to learn, wanted help, asked for it and appreciated two days of good counsel.

The third business gave evidence of much success in the social and spiritual sector, however the business model was being challenged and finances and management were in disarray.  This and more was evident to the visiting team.  However it was not equally evident that this business owner wanted help.  He seemed detached from the realities of where the business was headed.  Being a learner was not a concept he had internalized.  His business seemed to be at high risk.

Why is it important to always be learning?

1. Speed of change:  Moore’s Law describes the driving force of technical and social change, increased productivity and economic growth in exponential technical terms.  For example, four exabytes of unique information will be generated this year, more than the previous 5,000 years.  The top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2014 and it is estimated that by 2035 50% of the jobs on the planet today will not conceptually exist.  The amount of technical information is doubling every two years.  The speed of change in the world today demands that managers always be learning. 

Hall of Fame hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, when asked what makes him different, suggested that he does not go where the puck is but where the puck will be.  Such logic is prophetic of a manager who has learned to keep growing and learning.  Zig Ziglar once said, “I’m a constant learner.  You need to be a constant student because things change and you have to change and grow.  And I emphasize the word ‘grow’.” This 4-minute video provides a sense of how much change we are facing now  -- and what it means for lifelong learning.

2. Complexity of Kingdom businesses:  Some evidence suggests 80% of US businesses fail within the first five years of operation (Why 9 out of 10 Small Businesses Fail). Now add the complexities of a foreign culture, different language, factors of integrating the Triple Bottom Line, international law, trade issues and financial/accounting issues -- one would think the failure rate would be much higher.  In order to succeed such complexity demands owners, consultants and coaches to be constantly learning.  In the words of Sidney Poitier, “I have always been a learner because I knew nothing.”

3. Common Wisdom: A wise man 3,000 years ago reminded us of the importance of counselors in decision making: “Make plans by seeking advice…many advisors make victory sure…plans fail for lack of counsel…”(Solomon in Proverbs 20:18; 11:14; 15:22).  Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Yes, it's true, just as this blog from The Under 30 CEO explains: Great Entrepreneurs are ALWAYS Learning.

To be successful in any business and to be successful in Kingdom business overseas, striving for the Triple Bottom Line of profitability, job creation and social Kingdom disciple-making results requires owners and managers to always be learning, open to new ideas, seeking counsel from others and with the counsel of others making plans for tomorrow.


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

What does Christopher Columbus’s life teach us about business leadership?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Columbus Day is celebrated the 2nd Monday of October – a memory of the first non-native American to come to our shores and stay with a permanent presence, paving the way for European expansion.  Columbus was an interesting and colorful character demonstrating some admirable qualities but also some qualities that are detractors for any successful endeavor.  What can business entrepreneurs and developers learn from dear old Chris?

Three positive characteristics demonstrated by Columbus necessary to entrepreneurship today

  1.  Columbus was determined and persistent. Not only did his native Italy and powerhouse Portugal decline his requests for resources for his voyage, but Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain were engulfed in a war, so refused Columbus until after the war.  After hanging around the Spanish court for years, waiting persistently, Columbus was finally resourced for the vision.  He did not give up.
  2. Columbus knew how to cope with failure.  The Santa Maria ran aground and sank on the first voyage, his first colony experienced a massacre, he was marooned in Jamaica for a year and he failed to bring spices and other valuables back to Spain.  He was a masterful leader and sea captain and was able to move beyond the failures, keep the goal in mind and accept failure as a part of life.
  3. He was a man of faith, seeing himself as called to spread the faith to the new lands he discovered. As a man of prayer, he depended on a higher power for strength for the day and wanted the inhabitants of the Americas who were unaware of a sovereign God to come to know him.

Three negative facts about Columbus which cause us to learn from him

But Columbus was far from perfect, and there is much to learn from his mistakes.

  1. He failed to focus on what he was good at. It is well known that Columbus was a skilled navigator, sea captain and visionary; however when the King of Spain offered him the governorship of the new colonies, he accepted it.  This representation of what later became known as “The Peter Principle” was a disaster. His skills did not include administration and he was eventually arrested and returned to Spain in chains.  He was not gifted, trained, nor skilled in the world of governance and politics.  He should have stayed with what he was good at.
  2. He lacked integrity and made promises he could not keep - telling his crew that they would all get rich.  He promised the first person to sight land a sizable reward but when Rodrigo de Triana sighted what is now known as the Bahamas, Columbus did not reward him but kept the reward to himself.  As with all of us, such a character flaw eventually catches up with us and ruins our relationships and our business.
  3. He did not see nor treat all people with respect.  In fact he saw the peoples of the Caribbean as potential slaves and brought some to Spain proclaiming them to be his biggest discovery.  Thankfully Queen Isabella rejected the idea.  Columbus did not see people created equal before God nor did he treat them fairly with equality, justice and respect.  He has a legacy as a slave trader.

As an important historical character, we remember Columbus this day on our calendar, but we can also learn about life, leadership, good and evil, our humanity, and character which glorifies God or character that brings Him disgrace.  The challenge for all business entrepreneurs, developers and leaders is to learn from history; even from the story of Christopher Columbus.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures



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