I met him on a long flight when he chatted me up. I always try being kind, and was thankful when his story got interesting. Soon it was powerful.
Jim had been the general manager of a family owned construction supply company. He was the first partner from outside of ‘the family.’ The company was profitable, but management was ‘top down,’ creating a sharp division between ‘the family’ and the employees.
Jim saw a different future was possible and took action. He formed a group, bought out the family, and restructured the company to be ’employee owned.’ He knew the culture was limiting the company, though they had done $17M the previous year.
Change came quickly. Employees worked harder and treated every customer like royalty. Company morale soared and profits followed. Customers reported having their best experience every, but the world was changing and new challenges soon emerged.
The Home Depot opened their first store in his state only a few mile away. Jim’s company’s income dropped by 20% in a year. Everyone flocked to the ‘big box,’ even the contractors. Remarkably though all the lost income returned the following year, and even grew by an additional 15%. The big box could not match the experience brought by Jim’s employee owners.
The year he retired, decades later, Jim’s company did $331M in business. That year hundreds of employees shared in the profits rather than a handful of executives. I believe Jim’s experience is instructive for the church relating to our society today.
The power of ownership
The primary lesson is the power of ownership. Everything changed when his employees became owners. With both risk of loss and potential for reward, they became invested in the company’s success in a new way. Ownership creates a sense of responsibility.
Modern Christianity has lost our sense of ownership and responsibility for our world. When the world became viewed as an enemy to be hated or a temptation to be avoided, our faith became personal and defensive rather than societal and engaging.
I grew up in the church being warned of ‘gaining the whole world and losing your own soul.’ This reactive message caused us to focus so much on saving our own souls that we ended up losing our world instead.
We need to recover our God given ownership for our world. When we do, it will re-instill our sense of responsibility and the hopeful potential we have to transform it from within. It is OUR world.
The second lesson is righteousness elevates. Jim transformed the company making it life giving for all. He altered the trajectory of individuals, families, and generations. Jim is no socialist; he is growth and profit minded. He believed providing opportunities for others instead of benefiting at their expense is better. That perspective IS righteousness in business.
Our world fails when a few benefit at others’ expense. An unrighteous, even cannibalistic system causes longterm damage. We can create better, more righteous business systems – that empower rather than devour others – through faith and vision. Converting unrighteous systems to empowering structures is powerful transformation in the realm of business.
Jim refused to simply enjoy a system that provided him an elevated life. Instead he created a better company by giving opportunities for others to be elevated. He benefited by helping others find success, not by keeping them from it. That is how the Kingdom of God works in business.
Most of us have been given so much. It really is possible to move beyond the zero sum games. We can use our ventures, positions, and influence to create opportunities for others, to help them and bring us greater success. This is how our world is transformed and is the task of those who are rainmakers.