Thursday, February 7, 2019

Moral lessons in a business book—and not an oxymoron

Jeff Holler is the founder and owner of The Capital Chart Room LTD, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor, which is registered to provide advisory services in Texas and Oklahoma. He says he wrote Bigger Than Business: Real-world Stories of Business Owners Living Their Purposeto help readers understand what it means to have a purpose bigger than business and “how you can fully live that purpose in and through your business.”
The stories include a Texas carpet company, an Australian psychology clinic, a Brazilian agricultural implement manufacturer, a Tennessee crane and rigging company, a Rwandan sewing cooperative, an Indonesian palm oil corporation, a German pressure gauge manufacturer, and the American craft goods retailer Hobby Lobby. 
All are family-owned; most are large: Rasa Floors revenue was $78 million in 2017. Barnhart Crane and Rigging has over 1,100 employee in 47 branches. Hobby Lobby has about 800 stores, 37,000 employees, and revenue of around $4.7 billion in 2017.
Most started modestly, and through hard work, integrity, and customer service they prospered. The ten core values of Brazil’s Jacto Agricola are representative of all eight organizations. These are three “virtueties” (honesty, humility, simplicity); customer satisfaction (the company’s “reason to exist”); hard work; social and environmental responsibility; training and promoting from within (“if you entice someone away from another company, you are coveting; it is a sin”); recognition the larger ecosystem (customers, dealers, suppliers, partners); promote innovation; avoid debt; honor commitments; and “transfer these core values to the next generation of leaders, managers, and workers.”
Several themes run through these stories that every leader of a small business could follow with profit: Treat customers honestly and fairly. Treat employees honestly and fairly; high turnover increases the cost of doing business and reduces customer satisfaction. Cap executive salaries; it is difficult for management to make the case that we’re all in this together when the CEO earns 361 times what the average worker earns. (Hobby Lobby not only capped executive salaries, but raised the company’s minimum wage to $15.24 an hour by 2015.) Avoid debt; with cash in the bank the business can withstand business reverses and afford opportunities. When in trouble, seek outside help; in my experience too many entrepreneurs do not ask for help until it’s too late. Prepare for the future; few family businesses survive past the third generation.
We read that more and more young people want to work for an organization that is purpose-drive when the purpose is more than simply increasing revenue, growth for growth’s sake, and plundering the earth and polluting the planet. What makes Bigger Than Business so interesting is that Holler describes a world in which chance, luck, coincidence do not exist. Everything that happens is part of God’s plan. 
If your new Suburban filled with Christmas gifts catches fire and burns to the frame it is “a strong and clear message from God.” If your company fires you, it’s because “God had other plans” (to bring you back as president sometime in the future). When the company runs into troubles serious enough to threaten its existence, “God also helped me realize that I could not let our problems ruin the organization by overreacting.” When the Green family decided that Hobby Lobby would not pay for federally-mandated employee insurance that covered embryo life-terminating drugs and devices and filed a lawsuit (which they won in the U.S. Supreme Court), they believed the decision “was in God’s hands.” That is, God working through the court has decided that citizens have a constitutional right “to live their faith without the fear of interference or retaliation by the U.S. government.”
It is a world in which God has a plan for your life and through signs and signals you can recognize that plan, the purpose for which God has placed you on earth. (Because you have free will, you can, perversely, ignore that purpose, but you won’t be happy here on earth and probably not after death.)
The eight stories in Bigger Than Businessare not really case histories in the sense that an MBA student would study them for insights into marketing or operations or business succession. 
They are parables, simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. The examples Holler gives are inspiring—the Hutu woman who survived the Tutsi genocidal massacre, one of two people to be pulled still alive from a mass grave . . . the young atheist German communist who not only “came to know and accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior” but became a through-going capitalist—and affluent as well. 
While I myself do believe in luck, chance, and coincidence, it is difficult for me to identify with everything in the book. Nevertheless, if the morals of these parables inspire leaders to help employees thrive and to be better stewards of the earth, I can only wish that more people study the book for its lessons.