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Don’t Integrate Faith and Business – Live Your Faith


Christians, don’t integrate faith and business. Don’t integrate faith and anything. Live as followers of Messiah where you are.

Business is having the right people in the right slots headed in the right direction. It is all about people. Business is the largest mission field available to Christians, at home and abroad. Besides, it is the only wealth creating entity in society. Those of us whom God calls to be in business need to behave consistently as His stewards (Colossians 3:23-24), and His disciples (Luke 14:25-34).

Don’t Integrate Faith and Business

Don't Integrate Faith and Business: Seek First His Kingdom
Don’t Integrate Faith and Business: Seek First His Kingdom

Many Christian business leaders and pastors have not realized how much the church drifted into the world. Thus, they see a  need for Christians in business to integrate their faith and business principles. Christianity is a lifestyle. However, the integration idea suggests that Christianity is not a lifestyle, but a set of principles that apply situationally. So, in church and “Christian” settings, we live as Christ followers, but in business we integrate faith with business principles.

Recently, two fourth year biblical studies students interviewed me in my capacity as a business professor. They asked two basic questions: How do I define ministry? How do business students carry out ministry? I told them ministry happens where you are. On the bus, at the gas station, in dorms, overseas, everywhere. Daily, Each of us who follows Jesus should live a life that glorifies Him. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus tells His followers to go into the world to make disciples. This includes business, and applies to each of His followers.

The students were surprised at my answer. They could not imagine business students doing ministry. When do they go on the mission field? After all, business is about making money. Isn’t it?

I assured them that making money is not a goal of firms like Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix. Money results from decisions and activities. It’s never a proper goal. Firms make products or provide services for customers and clients. To function effectively, these firms need people—employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders, and so on. Sustained profits flow from treating employees well, serving customers, treating suppliers fairly, contributing to communities, and so on.

Previously, some of my students’ parents had similar issues. They were concerned their children were in the business program instead of a ministry program. I assured them that if God called their children into business, these children would be in a significant mission field.

Don’t Integrate Faith and Anything

Dont' Integrate Faith and Anything
Dont’ Integrate Faith and Anything

This silo view that only folks in churches, para churches, and overseas missionaries are in ministry is widespread in the church and among Christians. Industries are popping up to make business a ministry. Church leaders and businessmen who are Christians are calling for Christians in business to integrate their faith with business principles and practices. There are seminars and courses teaching this approach. How sad! Instead of equipping people to go where God leads them, the church, Bible schools, and Christian business people, unwittingly are promoting silo living: separate church life, business life, home life, and so on.

Many churches continue to mimic the world. Pastors and leaders seem to forget that as Jesus’ followers we need to live lives that glorify Him everywhere we go. There is no need to integrate faith and business. All we need to do is live by biblical teachings where we are.

Bible principles are excellent business principles. My former company’s (Alcan Inc.) principles, objectives, and policies could have been (probably were) taken from the Bible: Be honest, have integrity, treat people fairly, don’t take bribes, create safe and healthy workplaces, protect the environment, and so on. I worked at Alcan over 32 years in more than twenty countries, on each continent, and in different cultures. For the last sixteen years, I operated as a follower of Jesus and a senior executive. By God’s grace alone I lived my faith. In every instance my focus was on doing what’s right according to the Bible. Living my faith was enough.

Christians don’t have to Bible-thump in business. We don’t have to preach. All we need to do is follow Bible teachings.  Non Christians call this ethical behaviour. They know positive  results flow from such behaviour.

In each course I teach, I stress that business is ministry. You are in business, you are in ministry! I encourage students to obey the greatest and second greatest commandment that Jesus taught. Love people. I stress that when Christians follow Bible teachings in business we have a competitive advantage. That’s our key to success.

I see my students follow this path. One former student told me of an incident where his supervisor insisted he falsify records to speed up product shipments. The student refused. He told his boss this was not the right way to treat customers. Besides, it was dishonest. He was scolded instantly. The next day the supervisor, and the supervisor’s boss met the student. They apologized and commended him for his honesty. They admitted that consistent good customer service is essential. They agreed that the firm needed to be honest with everyone. This student did nothing but lived his life by Bible principles. He lived his faith.

Recently, I received this note from another former student:

Like any business, this dealership is determined to be successful. However, its guiding principle is to make as much money as possible from every deal. As a sales associate, I feel this is the wrong mentality to have. We should be looking to provide a service to our customers first. The outcome of a sale should take care of itself, if we are servicing our customers in truth and honesty.

He chose to follow the biblical path instead of integrating his faith with the business’ principles.

Do you find yourself wanting to integrate faith and business? Why are you not living as a follower of Jesus everywhere? The Bible is enough. It has all truth. Integration will lead to compromise. Don’t follow that path. Live a life that glorifies Jesus. You and I will fall, but He will pick us up.

Poor stewardship and greed were main causes of the Great Recession. Many Christians were involved. The world’s standards of making a fast buck attracted them. Jesus told us to be on guard against greed (Luke 12:15). This will be an ongoing challenge. However, staying focussed on our Messiah is the only way to go.

Today, many pastors behave like CEO’s and earn huge compensation to preach a feel-good gospel. An uninformed, naive, self focussed population will continue to demand that their ears be tickled. Pastors and business leaders need to adhere to Bible truths in the church and everywhere. We can do this. But only with the help of Holy Spirit.

© 2016 Michel A. Bell

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Decision Making Process More Important Than Analyses

Your decision making process is more important to a successful result than your analyses to prove the validity of a decision. That’s what research shows consistently.

How do you decide? Do you follow a predictable process or do you let your emotions or situations lead you? I believe we are poor decision makers, generally. I think we need to follow a proven process before we decide matters in our private lives and in business. Let’s see what we can learn from three large, bad decisions.

Decisions Influenced By Today

Poor Decision Making Process
Poor Decision Making Process

First, in January 1, 1962, four youths in a rock-and-roll band auditioned for a major British record label, Decca Records. Later they got a letter from Decca saying: “We don’t like your sound; groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished.” Decca missed out on signing the Beetles!

Why did Decca miss this chance to sign one of the best groups in history? Decca assumed the future would resemble the present. Four piece groups were not in vogue then, so, Decca extended the present to the future. (more…)

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What Does Stewardship Mean Today For businesses?

Applying effective stewardship in business is key to its success. What does stewardship mean today for businesses? Since the Great Recession, executives are more aware of their trust roles. These days, there is greater protection for shareholders. But we have a long way to go before effective stewardship is widespread in businesses.

What Does Stewardship in Business Mean Today

Stewardship in business is essential? Stewardship means you accepting your responsibilities
Stewardship in business is essential? Stewardship means you accepting your responsibilities

What is stewardship? Stewardship is acting as a steward.  Who is a steward? A steward is someone who gets responsibility and authority from an owner to look after the owner’s property in the owner’s best interest. 

What does stewardship mean today for businesses?  This will vary from firm to firm. These days, many boards of directors and executives see the need to be more accountable. They see this partly because of new government rules. However, executives know the cost of poor stewardship is huge. It hurts their brands. Greed filled executives in good years leading up to the Great Recession. During this time, many managers made decisions that caused major damage to their firms.  (more…)

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Is Your Business Customer centric?

Customer centric businesses serve all stakeholders
Customer centric businesses serve all stakeholders

Customer centric firms are primed to create value for all stakeholders. Is your business customer centric? The late management guru, scholar, and author, Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” No customers, no business. No students, no school. No sports fans, no stadium! It’s that simple. If we believe this, why is poor customer service rife?

Oligopolies are not Customer centric

In Canada, two key industries, banking and telecommunications, are oligopolies. They are not customer centric. Yet, consumers accept the lack of effective competition, and are complacent. Often, firms in these industries provide poor services while hiking fees often. Ironically, when the government wanted more competition in telecommunications recently, companies played the patriotism card successfully. (more…)

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Why Target Canada Failed: Target Off The Mark To Start

Why Target Canada failed? Its poor start doomed it for failure. Target gave its rivals almost two years to respond to its entry in Canada. In 2011, Target announced it would buy Zellers’ leases, but only in 2013 did Target open its first store in Canada. Then, it tried to make up lost ground and ramped up too quickly. This two year delay alone is a valid reason why Target Canada failed. What was Target thinking?

It was no surprise when on January 15, Target said it was closing its Canadian operations. This will affect 17,600 workers and cost its owners over $6 billion pretax. What a waste!

Target saw a chance for its first venture outside the USA. It viewed struggling Canadian discount retailer, Zellers as a ready made vehicle. So, it bought Zellers’ store leases–not its business–for $1.8 billion. But, Target made basic missteps that led to its demise. These are three major blunders why Target Canada failed:

  1. Protracted entry, rapid ramp up
  2. Brand promise neglected
  3. Competitive advantage overlooked
Why Target Canada Failed? Target Was off the mark from the start
Why Target Canada Failed? Target Was off the mark from the start

Why Target Canada Failed: Protracted Entry, Rapid Ramp Up

Target gave its rivals almost two years to react to its entry in Canada. In 2011, it announced it would buy Zellers’ leases. However, it did not open its first store until 2013. No doubt Target realized it was late, and opened over 100 stores during 2013 in former Zellers’ locations! During this rapid ramp up, many stores had empty shelves. From the start, Target Canada did not connect with its customers. It built up massive losses. Yet, it continued to open more stores in 2013, even with supply chain problems.
(more…)

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3 Areas Small Business Owners Should Address Regularly

A small business owner has several challenges. Often he or she must play every important role. This can be stressful. However, I have been mentoring a few small business owners for the past few years, and each small business owner I  coached was thrilled to be his and her own boss. Besides,  each understood that it’s normal in a small business to not employ full-time specialists in each major activity.

I gained gear insights in the workings of these small businesses. Though I worked mainly in a large multinational business in many countries, one fact is clear. Apart from the scale, most challenges small and large business issues face daily are similar. Still, I think there are three areas a small business owner should address regularly. And a new year is a perfect time to do it.

As a small business owner you have the joy of being your own boss. However, this brings responsibility for the entire business. Unless you pause regularly to examine how you are doing, you can burn out emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and financially. This happens gradually.

(more…)

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Four Keys to Success in a Mission-Focussed Business

Article first appeared in Faith Today magazine, page forty two, as Four Keys to Success, Tips for executives at mission-focussed businesses.

Mission-Focussed Business Keys to Success
Mission-Focussed Business Keys to Success

Book publishers today will tell you business is tough. My American publisher recently emailed me to say their business was bankrupt. They couldn’t pay outstanding royalties from 2013, but would ship my inventory – at my expense – to any destination I chose. My first Canadian publisher trod a similar path five years earlier. Today I’m working with another publisher who could be headed in the same direction.

The eventual demise of these Christian-led businesses was obvious for several years in partial and delayed bill payments. However, many of us don’t heed such warnings and thus miss the opportunity to deal with structural challenges. Instead, we chase money-driven, unsustainable quick fixes.

But business executives who focus on relevant success factors will spot threats and opportunities early, and respond appropriately. I suggest these four keys to success in a mission-focussed business or organization:

  1. Clear vision and mission
  2. Careful attention to success factors
  3. Attitude that puts people first
  4. Simple strategy understood by the workforce.

Mission-focussed Business has Explicit Vision and Mission

For a Christian-led business, the vision and mission should satisfy needs or wants that honour God. (In business, “vision” defines an organization’s purpose in broad strokes, while “mission” expands and clarifies it.)

Highly visible and understood affirmations of the organizational vision and mission are essential to help a workforce remain engaged and motivated.

Unfortunately most organizations drift away from their mission. During boom times, new money-making ventures can seem too enticing to pass up. Leaders may hire and use loans to grab short-term benefits. But as the new business fades, debt grows, employees are laid off and a toxic environment develops.

Executives must never forget that the mission is the guiding light. Leaders must pursue it passionately, methodically and consistently. Doing so enables them to resist the temptation to follow every business opportunity that crops up.

Mission-focussed Business Explain and Track Success

Employees should know how their organization measures success, not only in their department, but overall. They should know the ingredients of success and understand it’s more than one bottom-line number.

I learned early at business school that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The challenge is to identify “it” – five to seven critical factors to track continually. Executives must monitor inputs that determine employee and customer satisfaction, and profitability.

Sadly, most people try to manage the wrong items. They may focus wrongly on outputs, when in fact only inputs (amount and quality of material, labour, and so on) are truly manageable.

Christian-led businesses must follow biblical principles while achieving reasonable returns. Executives must be unequivocal that the business will never compromise its values. When I served as vice-president at Alcan Inc. (now Rio Tinto Alcan), we had to submit a yearly letter to the president affirming we were unaware of violations of Alcan’s principles, objectives and policies. This formal process cascaded to front-line managers – each level submitting letters to the one immediately above.

Mission-focussed Business put People First

People are the greatest asset of any business. Motivated, passionate workers go beyond what’s needed. They lift productivity and provide superior services to customers – who in turn willingly share their positive experiences with others, thus benefiting the business.

Executives must invest time selecting, training and developing employees. They must value employees highly and treat them according to the Golden Rule.

Mission-focussed Business has a Clear Strategy

Vision, mission and strategy statements need to be simple and easily understood. A strategy should depict how the business intends to do its mission – essentially, how it will provide superior value to its customers.
Executives should explain the strategy to the workforce – especially managers who must build and work with congruent departmental strategies and budgets.

The Bible teaches that the Lord will guide us when we believe in Him, trust, obey and lean on Him. Fundamentally, for Jesus’ followers, success is developing and treading paths that glorify God while doing His mission. It is aligning our lives with His – and these four keys to success in a mission-focussed business can help serve as signposts on our journeys.

© Copyright 2014, Michel A. Bell

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What Are The Best Criteria To Hire New Employees?

What are the best criteria to hire new employees? Character trumps everything when hiring people. We can upgrade skills, but it’s almost impossible to train values and ethics.

In my 32-years business career, mainly in executive positions, I hired many people. In hindsight, some were exceptional. Others fitted well. But a few did not pan out. Hiring the right person challenged me. It was an area I studied, discussed with experts, yet each senior-level-hire created anxiety.

What Are The Best Criteria To Hire New Employees? Character first
What Are The Best Criteria To Hire New Employees? Character first

We did a job specification  showing the needs of the job. We prepared a job description with the profile of the person needed. Then, we provided equal chance for all job seekers so we might get the best person for the job.

Best Criteria To Hire New Employees: Character First

What was my problem? How would I get to know each candidate? How would I go beyond résumés and application forms to learn about each person? I was sure each person would have a super résumé. Besides, I felt sure each would be well coached. Interviewees knew they were selling their skills. They knew they needed to perform well. And usually they acted brilliantly. (more…)

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Will Loblaw Takeover of Shoppers Create Shareholder Value

Loblaw takeover of Shoppers Drug Mart, will it create value for Loblaw’s shareholders? Time will tell. I am skeptical. Let’s examine Loblaw’s reasons to buy Shoppers.

Loblaw takeover of Shoppers could be expensive
Loblaw takeover of Shoppers could be expensive

Loblaw’s March 28, 2014 press release states:

“Acquisition strengthens Loblaw and Shoppers Drug Mart in competitive marketplace. Will deliver more choice, value and convenience to help Canadians Live Life Well…We will drive growth and profitability through our unmatched mix of store formats, products and offerings. This is truly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.”

Loblaw believe one plus one will equal three; sadly, research shows most acquisitions lead to one plus one equals one. Here are three questions for Loblaw’s leadership:

  1. Do they know most acquisitions don’t produce expected results because the acquirer overpays?

Loblaw paid around 30% premium for Shoppers, which delighted me, as a former Shoppers’ shareholder. But, how will the combined company generate an acceptable return from this high base? How do individual customers get more choice? There are no empirical data suggesting the takeover will cause Loblaw’s customers to gravitate to Shoppers or conversely. Then again, how do you create significant sustainable synergies when you keep Shoppers separate?

Loblaw takeover of Shoppers, will it create shareholder value
Loblaw takeover of Shoppers, will it create shareholder value

I believe Shoppers’ Stock Market value before the offer was realistic; a 30% premium on a high market price is a bad omen for Loblaw’s shareholders.

Sears, Roebuck & Company’s purchase of Dean Witter Reynolds and Coldwell Banker & Company real estate services business in the 1980s chronicled in Corporate Governance by Robert A. G. Monks and Nell Minow, gives me an eerie déjà vu feeling about this transaction!

2. Did Loblaw study my former employer, Montreal headquartered Alcan Inc.’s takeover by Rio Tinto?

I was delighted at the substantial premium Rio Tinto paid at the top of the market for my former employer of 32 years, Alcan, Inc. Though ecstatic as a shareholder, it was obvious in foresight that Rio Tinto overpaid. The aluminum industry is cyclical and prices were high by any standard. Rio Tinto shareholders’ only solace come from the CEO who did the deal losing his job, and so can do no further damage. As well, his successor acknowledged the mistake. Meanwhile, my former colleague, then Alcan Inc.’s CEO, Dick Evans, pulled off one of the best deals in recent memory for Alcan’s shareholders.

Rio Tinto - Overpayment Poster Child
Rio Tinto – Overpayment Poster Child

What went wrong for Rio Tinto? Clearly, they were not focussed on sustainable value and were distracted by industry events. Their due diligence obviously was inadequate, and they did not appreciate the industry’s cyclicality. Realistically, like most CEO’s in these over priced transactions, Rio Tinto CEO’s exuberance during the bull market trapped him.

3. Where does Loblaw expect higher earrings and lower costs to come from?

Here is another comment from Loblaw:

”Consumers are more focused on health and wellness and they are demanding more convenient retail locations,” said Vicente Trius, President, Loblaw Companies Limited. “Working together, we will capitalize on these consumer trends and create a compelling new blueprint for future growth and profitability.”

As part of their approval of the deal, the competition folks required Loblaw to divest some Shoppers’ stores. So, the new entity has fewer locations than the separate companies. As a Shoppers’ customer, how will this transaction alone change my buying habits and drive me to Loblaw? It won’t!

There are no significant synergies to cause the whole to be greater than the parts. What’s the “compelling blueprint”? To be sure, Loblaw’s offering “online pick up” at Shoppers won’t be a value creating juggernaut. Will existing Walmart customers choose to move to the new Loblaw because of the combination? I don’t think so. Will Loblaw go head to head with Walmart on price? This is a daunting prospect for Loblaw’s shareholders.

Loblaw and Shoppers have different cultures. A perceived simple matter as combining purchases will need significant study, patience, and exemplary leadership, to be effective. The good news is business literature are filled with many failures from which leadership intent on learning, can benefit.

If they haven’t, Loblaw’s leadership would benefit from Paul B. Carroll and Chunka Mui research-based book, Billion-Dollar Lessons, What you can learn from the most inexcusable business failures of the last 25 years. They would see clearly similar examples of failed acquisitions.

Cash Payment

Many shareholders, including me, chose the full cash option causing Loblaw to restrict cash payment to 80%, issuing Loblaw’s shares for the rest. Accepting cash based on the high premium above market is one sign of Shoppers’ shareholders view of the combined company.

Loblaw’s leadership need to understand it is highly unlikely they will realize most synergies; the probability of unrealized synergies increases if they maintain two separate entities. That’s why Loblaw are likely to break commitments for no lay offs, no reorganizations when one plus one heads towards less than one! Leadership must understand that keeping two separate entities means less than the status quo–Loblaw, plus Shoppers encumbered by Loblaw’s bureaucracy!

Conclusion

I learned several lessons when I was part of Alcan’s mergers and acquisitions activities for several years. First, your investment banker is unlikely to tell you the proposed acquisition is headed for a train wreck.
Second, you tend to over estimate potential synergies; not consciously, but you can’t anticipate implementation challenges. As well, often you will compromise and defer or neglect tough people decisions. Third, in the heat of the deal, you are likely to forget where you are in the business cycle. Don’t believe me? Review the Alcan and Rio Tinto deal!

Michel A. Bell follows Jesus, is author of five books, speaker, founder and president of Managing God’s Money, and adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary. Michel was a senior executive at Alcan Inc., now Rio Tinto Alcan. For information on living a debt free lifestyle, visit http://www.managinggodsmoney.com/essentialtools/capitalfund.php.

© 2014, Michel A. Bell

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Doing God’s Vision, Mission, Goals, Under His Guidance

God’s vision, mission, goals, can be unclear, but they are real. Doing them under His guidance is important if you are a Christian business owner. This will result in a business that will bring Him glory and be the best it can be.

Small firms employ almost 50% of Canada’s private sector workforce. It’s an important growth area. Are you in or planning to join this sector? Probably thinking about starting a home-based business? If you follow Jesus, ensure you work with God’s vision, mission, goals. It’s vital you have a clear vision, explicit mission, solid values, a coherent strategy, and a solid value creation platform.

God's vision, mission, goals in His creation!
God’s vision, mission, goals in His creation!

Most Bible translations tell us in Proverbs 29:18 that where there is no vision the people perish. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states that a better translation is ‘without God’s word, people abandon themselves to their own sinful ways. On the other hand, obeying God’s Law brings happiness.’

If you follow Jesus and intend to start a business, listen for God’s word. Try to hear God’s vision, mission, goals. He will show you the business He prepared for you. Even if you have a dream to do such and such, turn it over to the Lord. If that’s His plan, He will place the desire in your heart (Psalm 37:4). (more…)

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