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Do you have what it takes?

Monday, April 06, 2015


While on a recent flight I picked up the Spring 2015 issue of Startups magazine.  An article by Marcia Layton Turner caught my eye: Get started: 12 signs you’ve got what it takes to start your own business. You can read the online version (12 Signs You Have an Entrepreneurial Mindset) in full on Entrepreneurs website.  All twelve “signs” were intriguing reading and in this blog, I pick six of them and quote them - followed by an example from a BAM (Business As Mission) business I know.
  1. You take action.  Barbara Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Group and co-star of TV’s Shark Tank, says people who have a concept but not necessarily a detailed strategy are more likely to have that entrepreneurial je ne sais quoi.  I hate entrepreneurs with beautiful business plans,” she says.  Corcoran’s recommendation?  “Invent as you go”, rather than spending time writing a plan at your desk.  In fact, she believes that those who study business may be prone to overanalyzing situations rather than taking action.
    • A BAM example: RS is a person of action.  He has been a small manufacturer in China for 10 years, functioning according to the Triple Bottom line (profitable and sustainable, job creating for about 25 people, and holistic integration of spiritual values).  From time to time he has asked help from consultants, who have been frustrated because he lacks a plan.  But RS responds to his gut and he invents as he goes, taking advantage of opportunities others do not see.
  2. You listen.  Actress Jessica Alba, co-founder and president of Santa Monica, California-based The Honest Company, which sells baby, home and personal-care products, notes that “it’s important to surround yourself with people smarter than you and to listen to ideas that aren't yours.  I’m open to ideas that aren't mine and people that know what I don’t…”
    • A BAM example: C & VB operate a tour company in India.  They have been coached by IBEC from the beginning.  While on a recent tour with them, we asked the tour group, “What is the top thing that has contributed to the successful start of this company?”  The response was that they are active listeners and keen to learn from others.  This included mentoring from similar company owners in the USA and in Africa; it included doing recommended research when asked by the consultants; it included an attitude of collaboration with other cultures and languages in their host country; and it included a commitment to life-long learning.
  3. You don’t ask for permission.  Stephane Bourque, founder and CEO of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Incognito Software, says true entrepreneurial types are more likely to ask for forgiveness than permission, forging ahead to address the opportunities they recognize.  “Entrepreneurs are never satisfied with the status quo,” says Bourque, who discovered he was not destined for the corporate world. "I wish my employees would get into more trouble", because it shows they are on the lookout for opportunities to improve themselves or company operations. 
    • A BAM example: D & CP worked in partnership with a group in China where they learned the language, loved the people and felt at home.  When the partnership came to an unexpected end, they wondered what to do next.  Building on his business roots in the USA, D did not seek permission from his employer in the USA, but set out to start a private company in the country.  They saw an opportunity in the book industry and started Classic Education-China which eventually became quite successful and was sold to a multinational company.
  4. You love a challenge.  When confronted by problems, many employees try to pass the buck.  Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, rise to the occasion. “Challenges motivate them to work harder,” says Jeff Platt, CEO of the Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park franchise.  “An entrepreneur doesn’t think anything is insurmountable … He looks adversity in the eye and keeps going.”  Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, agrees.  Despite naysayers who questioned her idea for a bakery in the midst of the carb-fearing early-2000s, she persevered and now has locations in eight states.  In fact, she was one of the first entrepreneurs in a business that became an on-going craze, sparking numerous copycats.
    • A BAM example: BP loved a challenge, which is what took her to a former Soviet Republic in South Asia in search of an opportunity.  She graduated with a degree in international business and had lots of experience working at Starbucks.  But her new country was different – they drank tea!  She looked at this and was undaunted.  Because people had a keen and eager interest in the western world, she was able to build a coffee retail business in her adopted country that offered American-like experiences.  Since many wanted to emigrate to America one day, the coffee shop became popular, and its success bred expansion into another store.  Despite the naysayers, she and her colleagues built a Triple Bottom Line business.
  5. You recover quickly.  It’s a popular notion that successful entrepreneurs fail fast and often.  For Corcoran, the trick is in the speed of recovery:  If you fail, resist the urge to mope or feel sorry for yourself.  Don’t wallow; move on to the next big thing immediately.
    • A BAM example: LM started a business in a former Soviet South Asia country.  He invested his own money and partnered with a national attorney.  Things went well until he discovered that his partner emptied the bank account and liquidated the company.  LM was bankrupt.  I called him to encourage him and asked him what he was going to do now.  He quickly responded, “Oh, I have already gone down the street, borrowed some money and have opened up a new office.”  LM was confident in his product (consulting services) and his ability and was not intimidated by failure.  He did not wallow or feel sorry for himself.  LM is an entrepreneur.
  6. You’re resourceful.  “One of my favorite TV shows growing up was MacGyver,” confides Tony Hsieh, lifelong entrepreneur and CEO of Las Vegas-based Zappos, “…because he never had exactly the resources he needed but would somehow figure out how to make everything work out.  Ultimately, I think that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.”  It’s not about having enough resources, he explains, but being resourceful with what you have.
    • A BAM example: This was true for my friend BJ who saw a favorable business climate in his Asian country but lacked resources.  He had artistic ability and he discovered a market for glass tables, lamps, etc.  He lacked international marketing expertise and did not have a lot of capital, but BJ kept seeking resources he did not have – from various sources and utilizing latent abilities of his own, building a manufacturing business from scratch, eventually hiring 600 employees, starting orphanages and other community projects and having a spiritual impact in hundreds of lives.
Do you see yourself in any of these examples? Can you see yourself using your entrepreneurial mindset to build a kingdom building BAM business? Do you need some ideas for how to get started? Feel free to contact me (larry.sharp@ibecventures.com). You can also find great resources on Business As Mission’s website as well as other BAM-focused sites featured in my November 17, 2014 blog, “Who else besides IBEC Ventures is in this BAM space?”.


Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Is BAM disruptive innovation?

Monday, March 30, 2015

I have recently been listening to Clay Christensen (Harvard Business School) describe his idea of disruptive innovation.  He calls it a theory and has some amazing examples from the steel and auto industry, tech examples and even education.  The definition below comes from Christensen’s website which I highly recommend.

“Disruptive innovation, a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market', eventually displacing established competitors. Christensen has since applied this principle to business, health care and education, providing enormous insight into what companies and organizations need to do to move off the sidelines and into the top tier of their field.”

The video on the above link is only about 8 minutes but it is extremely intriguing and worth listening to.  Are his ideas potentially important for social enterprises and Business as Mission?  He looks at it this way.  If we continue to rely on data (which looks to the past) for decision-making, we are not going to prepare for nor change the future.  The way to look into the future (because there is no data) is to develop theories.  

In the business world and in education, we need to learn “how” to think and rely less on “what” to think.  So what does this mean for those of us in the Business as Mission sector?

Many times I reflect on this question, especially today as I watch the country of Yemen descend into further chaos, “what really will change the world toward positive transformation?”  Is it a benevolent dictator? Is it evangelistic preaching? Is it capitalism? Is it the social gospel? Is it better models?

The question of course causes me to reflect on what IBEC and other entities in the social enterprise and BAM space are trying to do.  Here are some of the mission statements from websites.
  • Agora exists to enhance the spiritual, social and economic prosperity of communities in developing countries by equipping entrepreneurs to establish profitable businesses that benefit their communities, create jobs, and inspire local entrepreneurs to do the same.
  • Our mission is to launch a new generation of missional entrepreneurs who build prevailing companies, while also meeting physical and spiritual needs around them. We infuse technology and world-class business wisdom into the ancient tradition of biblical discipleship – one accomplished, Godly leader apprenticing one willing and God-appointed learner.
  • Third Path Initiative equips young professionals to have a kingdom impact through profitable business in the global marketplace.
  • Professionals International is a network of economic development professionals who live long-term in challenging business environments. We work alongside entrepreneurs in these places to grow sustainable businesses that benefit the poor and marginalized, empowering them to make a living and improve their lives.
  • IBEC’s purpose is the help build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.
All of this is disruptive! It disrupts the traditional mission industry. It disrupts the pure social enterprise sector.  It is disruptive of traditional business. Disruptive innovation has been described as insanely creative, rule-breaking and leading to entrepreneurial change.

Could what we are doing, along with the disruption we are creating, change the world like mini mills disrupted the integrative steel industry? Like Toyota disrupted the Detroit car makers?  Like personal computers challenged the mainframes and won? Like on-line education is disrupting traditional universities today? Like retail medical clinics are disrupting traditional doctor’s offices?

I well remember one of the examples Christensen provides.  Like in the home of Christensen’s youth, the RCA radio had a prominent place in our home.  But about 60 years ago the Sony transistor radio began to peck away at the bottom of the radio market.  It was inferior and could not compete with the quality performance of my parents’ RCA, so it was initially ignored by my parents.  However Sony began to re-define the standard of performance to be availability and portability.  Now I could listen to Rock and Roll without my parent’s knowing it, and I could take it with me. Thus what started out to be an inferior product which captured a small segment of the market soon improved, and from the bottom up became industry standard.

Could that be the social enterprise industry today?  Could that be Business as Mission?  Could what we are trying to do by breaking all the rules, by challenging the silos and historical categories and by providing an integrated solution to the spiritual, social, economic, and political problems be described as  disruptive innovation?  Could we really by trying to demonstrate the kingdom of God “here and now” as Jesus said we could and should?

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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What are we supposed to think and do about poverty?

Monday, March 23, 2015


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:

  • Corbett, S. & Fikkert, B.  When Helping Hurts- How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself
  • Lupton, Robert D.  Toxic Charity – How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help
  • Martin, Jonathan. Giving Wisely – Killing with Kindness or Empowering Lasting Transformation
  • Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid – Why Aid is not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa
  • Poverty Cure – From Aid to Enterprise  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxASM44gPlU)

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Business ethics in action: let your light shine

Monday, March 16, 2015

We have written some thoughts in recent blogs about ethics, corruption and bribery.  Because IBEC serves businesses in countries that are the most corrupt in the world (see www.transparency.org), we hear stories like this from time to time.  This story gives a glimpse of what it is like to make ethical decisions in the real-life context in Asia.

Following ethical business practices whether in North America or overseas is not always easy. Questionable opportunities present themselves in various ways that can lead to object lessons and experiences that provide us with better understanding.

A few months ago, a client operating a business in Asia (Rick) contacted a nearby new factory as part of regular efforts to explore new manufacturing partners. Rick had been chatting with Wang, a young sales agent at this company for a few days when they decided to meet face-to-face. However, the meeting quickly turned sour as Wang started explaining a plan to secretly take developed clients from his company and refer them to Rick’s for a commission. 

“I explained that this was not the way our company was interested in doing business,” Rick recalled. As Rick tried to end the meeting quickly but politely, Wang noticed the Bible on a shelf and asked if Rick was a Christian believer. “I said ‘yes’ and explained the connection between my faith and our desire to do business under ethical conditions,” explained Rick.

Wang left disappointed and Rick was sure he would never see him again. To his surprise, Wang started chatting with him online three days later and announced that he had quit his job and decided to open his own independent sales company. “After working as a sales manager for 3 years under 3 different bosses, I’ve been lied to countless times and not one had ever fulfilled promises made on commissions or other aspects of business agreements,” Wang explained.

“When I turned down his offer of backdoor referrals, it stood out to him in the context of his culture,” Rick said. Over the next few weeks, the two men chatted often regarding trade leads, business, life and faith.  Just before Rick left on a sales trip to America Wang asked, "How does someone have a faith like you have?" 

“Our first business meeting upon my return from the USA involved this young man, myself, and another employee, and during the meeting Wang said he wanted to follow Jesus,” Rick said.

Rick continued, “I am not sure how the business cooperation with him will work out, but I am surprised, and pleased to say the least, at how what seemed to me to be a basic ethical business decision could make such an impact on a young man that would eventually lead to a significant life changing experience.”  

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:15-17

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Have you found your TBO for 2015 yet?

Monday, March 09, 2015

On Dec 29, 2014 I wrote about being on the lookout for that big opportunity, something retired Harvard Business School professor John Kotter calls The Big Opportunity (TBO).  It is a window into a winning future that is realistic, emotionally compelling and memorable.  In business it can be new markets, advances in technology, new products, new people, or anything that becomes a new TBO.  We all need to be on the lookout for our next TBO.

As an educator I highly value metaphors or models which help envision some potential reality.  The model could be from some other industry or exist in an unlikely setting, but the point of comparison can be readily realized.
Such is the case of the 1987 McFarland High School (California) cross country team.  In that year this unknown high school won the state championship and went on to attend the state meet for 24 straight years.

The town of McFarland is just north of Bakersfield in the heart of California’s fertile Central Valley.  Most of the inhabitants of the town are of Hispanic origin and they are employed in the fruits and vegetables picking industry in the region.  They and their families believed this to be their destiny. That is, until 1987.

It was that year the new coach Jim White moved into this community, and though an imperfect mentor and coach he saw “The Big Opportunity”.  These high school kids of this Mexican American high school had exceptional running ability.  They ran to school; they ran home from the fields after work; and they were fast!  Coach White (‘Blanco’ to the kids), saw the TBO: maybe he could coach them to be successful in cross country running.  And maybe that would lead to greater things.  Maybe the next generation would not have to be pickers.

Coach Blanco saw something others did not see and said to the seven best runners, “There is nothing you can’t do with that kind of strength and with that kind of heart.” He formed a fledgling team of unlikely runners who bonded together and become a championship cross country team and created a legacy for themselves and for the community.

The story is told in the movie “McFarland USA” and is well worth the watch from the perspective of its redeeming qualities such as family, culture, motivation and pathways to success.  But watch to see what results when an opportunity is discovered and created.  The story is real, compelling and emotionally laden.  It demonstrates what can happen with a TBO which is recognized, developed and relentlessly pursued.

Seven members of the team went on to college and to professional jobs (totally unheard of prior to TBO and Coach White - and all totally unexpected).  The story is a model for TBOs in business because it is inspiring and a metaphorical key to what will build entrepreneurial companies today.

Photo credit: thanks to photographer and cross country dad, Brian Archbold!

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Part 2: To bribe or not to bribe?

Monday, March 02, 2015


Last week I proposed the Noonan definition of a bribe as “an inducement improperly influencing the performance of a public function meant to be gratuitously exercised” (The History of Bribery). That definition then begs the question of what is proper and improper.  Considering biblical culture and law, our own culture and law and the host culture and law, the following questions will go a long way to helping us make decisions on what is a bribe and what might not be a bribe.  Remember that “Christianity operates on the notion that ethics (the study of human character) logically follows theology (the study of God’s character)”.1 

In short, questions of bribery and extortion can be subjected to a Biblical test contextualized to the culture of the business:

  1. Does a bribe create partiality?  The Old Testament commands us to not “show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great.” (Leviticus 19:15). Likewise in the New Testament, “…keep these instructions without partiality, and do nothing out of favoritism.”  (I Timothy 5:21).  If the activity causes one to be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged, the decision is likely unethical and unfair.
  2. Is the activity based on greed and does it oppress the powerless?  If a gift or “bribe” causes you to be advantaged and another to wait unfairly, the act has oppressed the powerless and is strongly condemned in the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:23;  Ecclesiastes 7:7).  Friedman uses the Old Testament to provide principles for businesses such as “Helping the Needy and Powerless”, and “Fair Treatment of Employees”, and “Not Engaging in Dishonesty and Immoral Business Practices.”2
  3. Does the activity clearly result in doing something illegal?  While it is difficult to determine what the law really is in many developing countries because, it is important to determine some standard to follow through your own research or by following trusted national experts.  Take the position that that it is never right to sin or disobey a law in order to accomplish a good purpose.  When a developing country does not have laws as robust as developing countries, don’t jump at the opportunity to take advantage of lenient local laws but use it as an opportunity to consider what is right and operate accordingly. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”3 Keep in mind that “…in free societies law is a moral floor, providing only minimal standards of acceptable behavior.”4
  4. Does the activity “pervert the course of justice” (Proverbs 17:23, Exodus 18:21)? Another definition of bribery suggests it is the “bestowing of money or favor upon a person who is in a position of trust (for example a judge or government official) in order to pervert his judgment or corrupt his conduct.”  In quoting this Falkiner states, “ Perverting justice through bribery can take the form of paying for an unfair advantage, such as buying entrance to a school that has limited enrollment, or fixing a traffic ticket, or receiving a visa for which one is not qualified.  The common denominator is that a perversion of justice has taken place.”5
With regard to bribery and extortion, the Bible seems to promote the morality of paying a bribe or giving a gift for something clearly legal or good.  Likewise the Bible seems to never condemn giving a bribe though it does clearly condemn taking a bribe.  Proverbs speaks positively in terms of gift giving (18:16, 21:14).  There are cases where gifts (bribes?) are not a way around the law (which is wrong) but an incentive for officials to do their prescribed jobs, or to expedite what they should be doing anyway, or to encourage justice.  Bribery in the Old Testament is condemned if it exploits or oppresses the poor.  It is condoned if it establishes a relationship.”6

In relationship-based cultures which are poverty stricken, sometimes “bribes” may be helpful to officials who have not been paid for months, and need encouragement to do their rightful job.  Clearly there are difficult cultural nuances at play here, and careful study of scripture, the laws and culture are important.

In a relationship culture, gifts can be a way of developing a friendship and working relationship.  Many non-western cultures expect an incentive gift as a way of solidifying a relationship and when not perverting justice, can be a healthy way of living in a culture.  One way to test this would be to ask – can it be given openly as opposed to subtly?  “A tip is for proper performance of a job; a bribe causes a person to betray a job.”5

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

References:
  1. Hill, Alexander. Just Business,  InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2008, page 14.
  2. Friedman, Hersey H. “Creating a Company Code of Ethics:  Using the Bible as a Guide”, Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organizational Studies,  Vol. 8 (1),  April 2003.
  3. Wong, Kenman L. & Rae, Scott R.  Business for the Common Good, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2011, page 187-188.
  4. Welch, D. ed. Law and Morality, Fortress, Philadelphia, PA, 1987,  page 153-154.
  5. Falkiner, Steven. “Bribery – Where are the Lines?”, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, January 1999, page 22-37.
  6. Adeney, Bernard. Strange Virtues, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1995, page 153.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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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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