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Business as Mission Case Study: Consumer Decor Products

Sector: Designer, manufacturer and supplier for Export of consumer décor products. The company develops and produces an array of glass products for retail sectors in North America and Europe. With on-site design teams, the company can assist customers in creating products to suit their market needs. Innovation in the production processes is quite evident – certain product construction designs are unmatched and could even justify an application for an international patent. While originally a “crafts shop”, the company has evolved into a high capacity producer of niche products used in decorating homes and buildings. Custom orders are still accepted, but are only processed for a manufacturing fee that is significantly higher than the standard repetitive manufacturing fees.

Market: The company only sells its products to retailers in North American and Europe. At present, there is no domestic marketing effort and no domestic distribution of products. Consideration of expansion into domestic markets has been given in the strategic planning process (as evidenced by several passing remarks), but focus continues to be on providing products of reliable quality to foreign distributors at a competitive cost (cheaper production costs than western manufacturing). The company has several noteworthy quality control certificates. Considering moving into more solutions-oriented sales as market returns continue to shrink.

Structure: Wholly-owned foreign company. The company is privately owned, with the bulk of shares being held by a single individual. Some mention was made of “two boards of directors” – one offering business consultation, the other providing spiritual guidance and support. Daily operations are administered by a management team that is compromised of expatriates and nationals. A few other expatriates are employed by the company to provide support in marketing (native English voices). The presence of non-national staff has been controlled as to develop a business that is truly “national” There is tangible delegation of authority – this is not a business where all decisions are made by one person and then rubber stamped by a paper-only leadership team. With the delegation of solid responsibility, however, comes genuine expectation and accountability. Measurements of success are used in a variety of ways to evaluate the performance of company leaders – failure to meet standards can (and has) resulted in shifting positions and termination of employment.

In this company, however, success is judged not solely by financial achievement, but also by contribution to company’s “quality of life”, relational development, and commitment to pursuing and teaching eternal skills (service, charity, honesty). The company also has a ministry team comprised of two national workers from each ‘floor’ of the factory. This team, working with the owner, prayerfully develops ministry initiatives and takes the lead in implementation.

Champion: Expat who came to this country over 20-years ago, first as a language student, then, once the door opened to register a business, set up shop. Started with a range of products of which their mainstay was a minor possibility. Main product part artistic, part manufacturing advantage. Managed to hit a niche market for several years that led to incredible annual growth. However, niche market disappeared almost overnight. Though no formal business training, this champion has had a passion for prayer, learning and seeing God draw in very capable people to create a capable team. He has had a hand in most aspects of this company, from product design to marketing, to hiring and firing and developing ministry initiatives. From early on he decided to place himself under the spiritual authority of a national pastor in the community. From this position he has sought to develop a partnership with the local church and sees their role as complementary.

Business formation: Company is a wholly owned foreign enterprise. At present, the business operates out of two production centers. One is urban, the other rural. The urban center employees 550 individuals while the country site employs 80 people. Each branch is, at present, profitable. Initial investment for operations was solicited from US parties. It is reasonable to speculate the loans have now been recovered or small percentages of ownership issued. Central to the company’s goal is profitability and independent sustainability. During the interview sessions, it was noted that the historical preference of the company has been to convert offers of financial support into business contracts whereby product is sold to individuals desiring to give support. As a sustainable, for-profit enterprise, this manufacturer seeks to secure and preserve measurable financial success by the standards of normal commercial exchange.

Vision: The company was established by a man with no formal business training. His previous life experience was in the areas of teaching and counseling. However, with varied interests, the visionary was able to use unique skills in craft design to develop products that were attractive to American consumers. Yet the heart of the enterprise has never been to promote the development and sale of charming home decorations. Instead, the original intention (which has certainly been refined over the years) was to establish a work place that invited people to consider the faith while simultaneously nourishing both believers and nonbelievers spiritually, physically, socially, and economically. One of the primary values of the company is that eternal things are more important than temporal things. All leaders take the principle of stewardship seriously, possessing a pronounced conviction that they are caretakers of something which has been entrusted to them. In seeking support, the management team has established a variety of habits (including innovation) which are crucial in invoking the presence of God in daily, tangible ways. Their desire to be agents of change starts within the walls of the business, but then must impact the surrounding community where many of the employees live, are involved in helping an orphanage, and other kinds of life skills training.

Story: Over 20-years as a business in this community of this city. For a stretch of years they grew at an extraordinary rate - from 25 to 125 employees overnight because of hitting a market niche. For a stretch of 4-5 years they received the ‘most caring employer’ award for the city.

Over the past years, the company has been committed to developing and implementing resourceful strategies that encourage the formation of eternal skills among all staff members. Principles of honesty & fair play are reinforced by scriptural excerpts, promotion is offered to those people who demonstrate reliability in their daily duties (he who does well with little will be given more), values are posted bilingually for all to see as they come and go, accountability is taken seriously (workers evaluate supervisors, managers are judged by those they direct), and employee training (production skills & character development) are built into the operations program.

Additionally, the company has used its prosperity to support local efforts to alleviate serious (and sometimes unacknowledged) injustices. Funding has been used to build orphanages, time has been donated to organizing foster care networks, and summer programs are offered for the children of staff members at no charge. Personal development, in a variety of areas, is encouraged by seminars ranging from marriage & relational counsel to financial planning. Of particular importance is the decision on the part of company leaders to open a second factory in a rural community nearby the city. This decision was made in an effort to remedy the problems that undeniably arise when country workers migrate to urban areas for employment, including inability of their children to attend city schools because of regulatory prohibitions. The company also recruits workers from the street side, offering training and employment to the homeless of the host city. These endeavors have been met with both success and disappointment.


Lessons learned:

Stewardship: The power of seeing the business as something that we have been entrusted to manage as stewards, not owners. This attitude keeps our actions and attitudes in the proper perspective

Social mobility and empowerment: Creating a culture that gives a future for employees. For instance, allowing employees to move up from living in an orphanage, to a line worker, to a line leader, to an office worker. They look for intelligence, not education. Not just in the fatalistic mindset of being bound by whatever our family or history tells us.

Putting oneself under local authority: Import for respecting local government and government relations and when working with local religious institutions. High value on trusting, good government relations. In addition, a deliberate effort to have transformational efforts happen in coordination and under the authority of the local religious leaders and even have a good relationship with the local religious bureau.

Commitment to innovation and continuous improvement: Giving divine credit for innovative solutions to problems. If you are controlling everything you’re doing, there’s no room for any input outside oneself.

Holding fast to one’s convictions: There was no tolerance for dealing with kickbacks. Also noticed that women are better at dealing with it than men.

Intentionally in putting teams of different genders together: Helped in creating a team in the long-run.

One lesson stands above all others: it is possible to foster an authentic and effective workplace witness through prayer, careful consideration of strategy, and the assembly of a well grounded (even if small) team of servant leaders. Under this paradigm, the work that matters more than all other work can be accomplished at the office instead of after the close of business (with The Presence and His blessing). The pursuit of excellence in the business operations of the company breeds respect for the enterprise as a whole and its leaders. This respect is vital in the ability of like-minded individuals to expose the gospel in the business environment.

Future plans:

No future course of action was revealed, though it is the intention of the ‘visionary’ to continue in this endeavor until prompt for change is discerned.

The ‘visionary’ is determined to avoid one thing, however: stagnation and the refusal to consider new avenues for spiritual & operational improvement. The practical manifestation of this principle, as often discussed by the ‘visionary’, is to cling to the habit of teachability and to maintain a culture of adaptability. On the business side they were in the process of doing a thorough review of the financial viability and doing a strategic marketing plan.

Results:

Sustainably profitable business for over 20 years

Providing jobs with training and a future for 550 in the urban setting and 80 in the rural setting

Intentional, disciplined practice of daily prayer

Seen significant percentages of all employees be eternally transformed and several churches formed and grow at both sites.

Won ‘best employer’ award for the city for several consecutive years

Excellent relations with government and religious bureaus

Visible impact on the vulnerable in their community (orphanage, beggars/homeless)

Focused long-term intercession, employment, understanding needs and blessing of one urban community

Observations:

Major obstacles to profitability lie within the boundaries of marketing and sales. Up until this past year there was no marketing office in the west, yet all clients are western retailers. A few passing comments indicated that there have been significant problems at various points in the past with identifying and soliciting new markets. Perhaps consideration should be given to formalizing and bolstering the marketing resources in the west.

Looked for every opportunity possible as a chance for transformation, and transformation not just limited to eternal (but the ultimate, intentional goal is for all to have a chance to respond).

Don’t automatically fire someone because of a mistake, but tried to work the problem through together with them.

Incorporate eternal/Biblical principles into their daily work: For example, serving the person in front of them on the production line, rather than talk only about how many end products go out

For us visitors, this was the most inspiring and challenging BAM model we’ve seen all year. In terms of the thoroughness of the intentional integration of Biblical values throughout the company, the emphasis on daily prayer for each person, the innovation and professionalism of the workplace, the obvious transformational impact both in variety and quantity (from numbers who’ve come to faith, to clubs established and growing, to works among the vulnerable, to winning ‘best employer’ award). Add to this the humility of the champion and his willingness to invest time in us, and offer training to other businesses in the community and to the BAM effort on a broader scale.

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posted by Justin Forman | 5.11.2008 - 7:00 AM

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