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Five keys to the success of an IBEC consulting team

Monday, June 29, 2015

On June 15, four IBEC consultants landed in Haiti’s capital and transferred to a small plane for the north coast of the country.  From the landing in Port au Paix, we were transported into the north interior – a vast area of Haiti devastated by drought, famine, poverty and alienation.  Our team was led be engineer and international business development professional, Ed Spence and included Kevin Spence (MBA), Jeremy Kaufmann (civil engineer) and Larry Sharp (IBEC Leadership Team).  We quickly observed why Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

We were warmly (no pun intended, considering the 100+ degrees of heat) received by our hosts, engineer Bruce and wife Deb Robinson who had served these people tirelessly for over three decades.  That very week Bruce was heading up 7 different projects focusing on infrastructure and Deb was feeding up to 18 people per day.  They thanked us profusely and we ourselves felt the team experience was one of our best ever.  Why so?

1. Clarity of Focus

We went with a clear purpose which kept us focused before, during and after the project.  We kept coming back to why we were there, which kept us “out of the weeds” as one member loved to articulate.  We were there to help develop a private irrigation pumping installation in order to sell river water to plantain farmers so they could have a consistent water supply.  Droughts there in the north of Haiti often last for a year or longer.  We anticipated that end results would include a business plan, financial planning, capital proposals and marketing strategies.

2. Commitment to the Task

The entire team was committed as evidenced by the fact that three of the team members were taking vacation time, or work with no pay, to come on the trip.  They were coming to a desperately poor country, bringing their own food for two meals a day (boy did we enjoy Deb’s dinners), and sleeping under mosquito nets in desperately hot conditions.  This was not a trip with a day at the beach as a reward; nor did we ever anticipate a cool rainy night.  All were committed. And the commitment began before the trip as we made plans, developed work strategies along with Bob Johnstone, who remained in the USA. We traveled by 4x4 vehicle over donkey trails for hours at a time.  The team was committed to the adventure and rallied behind every difficulty and task at hand.

3. Complementary Skills

Because the project was heavy on engineer skills and perspective, a total of three engineers (Bruce, Ed and Jeremy) were in their glory putting together formulas, measurements and spread sheets.  Those with more of a management perspective (Larry, Kevin and Ed) focused on how this project could be profitable and sustainable.  All of us cared about job creation and how it all could improve the conditions of this poor region of hundreds of thousands of people.  The Triple Bottom Line of BAM (Business As Mission) was functionally central to all that we aimed for:
a. A profitable and sustainable pumping facility
b. Creation of jobs in the community – primarily farming
c. Developing of disciples of Jesus

4. Cooperative Effort

There was full cooperation in all that we did.  We came with a desire to be learners by listening to the Robinsons and others we encountered.  We visited former and current projects, asked lots of questions and interviewed several farmers, asking questions like: What are your needs?  What are your current obstacles?  How can we be of help?  We met amazing guys like Shadrach, Pastor Evance, and farmers Edner, Moises and Eugene.

As a team we shared devotions and prayed together, we planned each day together and debriefed at the end of the day.  Even though there were times we did not agree, there was total respect for one another and a spirit of teamwork.  Together we wanted to contribute to an enormous task; we wanted to make a difference.

5. Consequential Results

Well motivated people like to see results and we were no exception.  We all would admit that the three days of making observations, doing interviews and sharing perspectives left us confused and conflicted.  Could we make sense of all we were experiencing?  But things started to come together by the end of the third day.  This left the next two days for putting it all together.

A plan emerged.  We first agreed on a series of descriptive charts which put infrastructure, utilities, community development and small business development in perspective to each other.  What do you do in an area where there is no infrastructure (roads, power, phone service, market structure, etc.)?  What comes first?  Where does business (our purpose in coming) fit in?  We wanted to be successful. We wanted Bruce and Deb to be glad we came. We wanted the lives of these people to improve. I think we accomplished in one week something that contributed to those ends.  

Our report and subsequent efforts focus on spin-off businesses from the pumping installation.  We saw the water pumping unit as a utility with the support of businesses like maintenance and supply; marketing of farming products; fuel delivery sales, and similar ancillary businesses.  We drafted plans, metrics, qualitative measurements, marketing strategies and training ideas.  We drew upon the helpful models of Jim Collins and others.  Could it be that we will see the flywheel momentum in this project?

As we boarded the 12-passenger Caravan plane, we all felt an overwhelming satisfaction from knowing that more than 200 families will have a sustainable livelihood, largely due to the work of Bruce and his team, but we had a small role in that. As all goes well with the anticipated pumping stations up and down Les Trois Rivieres, many businesses can be anticipated and more families thanking God for progress in a dry and thirsty land.  The first installation is nearly completed and we will soon see water flowing to the farms.  This tangible result is a sweet taste of victory – for sustainability, for job creation and for the name of Jesus.

Kevin reminded us of Isaiah 43: 19. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Nothing could be more relevant as we anticipate physical, social and spiritual results.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

How Jacob built his wealth

Monday, June 22, 2015

This week's blog is written by a friend, Patrice Tsague founder and CEO of Nehemiah Project.  He takes a story from the Bible and finds practical truths for starting a business which will build wealth.  Whether the reader is starting something for the first time, or is a long time owner, this reminder from the life of Jacob will encourage and stimulate us to even greater success.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

How Jacob built his wealth

By Patrice Tsague

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Tsague. Reposted from the original blog with permission.  

Can the Lord provide guidelines to His children on how to build wealth during difficult economic times? Of course the answer is, “Yes.” Bad times are nothing new to God. He specializes in helping us make good out of bad situations. What the devil means for evil, God always utilizes for our good. 

Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages. -- Genesis 30:32

In the book of Genesis, we find Jacob, the grandson of a wealthy businessman. He has experience working with sheep -- his grandfather, Abraham, made his money through the sheep and cattle business, and so did his father. Jacob is sent to his uncle, Laban, to get a wife. Laban is also an entrepreneur in the sheep and cattle business. Jacob makes an agreement with his uncle to work for him for seven years in exchange for his youngest daughter. However, Laban tricks him into working for fourteen years for two of his daughters, the youngest and the oldest, even though Jacob was interested only in the youngest. Through the duration of Jacob’s time working for Laban, the Lord prospered Laban’s business.
Now with a growing family, Jacob requests permission from his uncle to leave and go back to his country and to make provision for his own household. His uncle refuses to let Jacob go, recognizing that his business has increased tremendously in revenue since Jacob has been working for him. He therefore requests that Jacob name his wages. “How much will it take for you to stay?” he asks. Jacob does not name a salary, but rather asks for equity partnership in the business.
Equity partnership is an exchange of money or work for a percentage of shares in the business. This approach increased Jacob’s risk, but also increased his chances of becoming wealthy. He understood his value and recognized that no amount of money offered by Laban could have been enough to pay him what he was worth, since he was the one with the expertise.
He therefore exchanged his expertise not for salaries and benefits, but for an equity stake in the business. As a result of this shrewd business transaction by Jacob, the Lord gave him clever ideas and further prospered the works of his hands. Jacob became exceedingly prosperous and had male and female servants, large flocks, camels and donkeys (Gen 30:43).

What were the keys to Jacob building his wealth?
  • He obeyed his father (Gen 28:1-5).
  • He believed the promises of God (Gen 28:12-19)
  • He trusted God for his provision (Gen 28:20).
  • He committed to tithing (Gen 28:22).
  • He was faithful over another man’s business (Gen 30:27).
  • He recognized his value (Gen 30:30).
  • He was committed to providing for his family (30:30c).
  • He was as “wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove” (Gen 30:31-32, Matt 10:16)
  • He was not afraid to take risks (Gen 30:31-33)
  • He was diligent in business (Gen 30:35-43).
Whether you work for someone else or operate your own business, allow Jacob’s story to encourage you and give you insight into the ways of God. God rewards faithfulness and permits you to also look out for your own interests and the interests of your family. Though Jacob accumulated great wealth working with Laban, the time came for them to part ways and for Jacob to put his immediate family’s interests first. Eventually God told Jacob to move on and return to his home country (Gen 31).
What is God directing you to do? Are you ready to do something shrewd, risky, or new when God directs you to? May the God of Jacob give you insight and prosper the works of your hands in order that you and those who depend on you may experience the fullness of what God has in store. His plans are always for our good, and His kindness is everlasting.

A job can save a life: it’s what Jesus would do!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Last night I listened to an agronomist friend tell a story of an acquaintance of his who provides consultancy help to the filbert (hazelnut) industry in Turkey.  My friend Dave graduated from Oregon State University and is also an expert in modern techniques of hazelnut production.

Turkey produces about 75% of the world’s filbert crop.  The industry is historic and still very much tied to the 400,000 family farms which grow filberts the same way they have for centuries.  These farmers have not learned modern techniques of pruning, composting, irrigation, fertilizing, hedging and nursery use.  However many of these families are open to foreign experts sharing their knowledge.

In one region where the farms are small, the people very poor and there is much suffering this hazelnut expert began to share techniques in culturally appropriate ways and things began to change.  The farmers devoted their efforts toward the better methodologies they were learning and their crops began to produce a higher yield and a higher quality.  Life began to improve.

One day Dave was visiting this hazelnut consultant friend.  They were talking about how they could make an even greater difference in the hazelnut industry of the area.  At a certain moment the consultant said to Dave, “See that little girl over there?” as he pointed to a young girl working in the field.  The father of the girl had said to him a few days earlier, “I now don’t have to sell my girl to the human trafficking people of this area, because I have a job which now sustains my family.”

This consultant did not see himself as a social entrepreneur.  He did not come to Turkey to grow a social enterprise industry.  He simply wanted to use his expertise to help people.  It is pretty simple really.  He was blessed with a skill, an experience, and an ability; and he realized it could be used to help people in a world of poverty.  The net result was profitability, changed lives, and the ability to avoid losing one’s daughter to the human trafficking industry.  The next step is to start a consulting business and provide even more expertise and more help to this hurting area.

Jim Clifton in his book The Coming Jobs War affirms a simple business principle, “Innovation has no value until it creates something a customer wants…what customers at any level really want is somebody who deeply understands their needs and becomes a trusted partner or advisor.” (pages 84, 121).  The thesis of Clifton’s book is that leaders of countries and cities should focus on creating good jobs because as jobs go, so does the fate of nations.  Jobs bring prosperity, peace, and human development – but long-term unemployment ruins lives, cities, and countries.

In Christian terms, we call it “what Jesus would do”.  Jesus determined what the customer needed – blind men, hungry people, hurting people, sick men – and he understood their need and addressed those needs.  He is our model for 21st century decisions which bring jobs, prosperity and development; and thus we can address even further social needs such as human trafficking of children.

IBEC promotes social entrepreneurship, but sometimes we simply say “we are about job creation” whether as a social entrepreneur or not.  Job creation has so many by-product results for the good of the poor, and it is “what Jesus would do”.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Freedom business

Monday, June 08, 2015

Last week Forbes Magazine published an interesting article by someone who partners with IBEC, Michelle Pride.  IBEC’s Marcia Leahy is a member of the Freedom Business Alliance (FBA) and works with Michelle.  Having met Michelle some years ago and highly valuing the work being done by Marcia and the FBA, I champion the progress Michelle is making in providing sales opportunities for freedom businesses and other social entrepreneurs. 

Trading Hope is all about Small-Medium Enterprise; it is all about values in the marketplace, it is all about social enterprise; it is all about rescue.   Read more from this Forbes article by Anne Field: An Etsy For Social Entrepreneurs.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

BAM business failures - part 2

Monday, June 01, 2015

Last week’s blog presented four reasons that I have observed for Kingdom business failures.  These businesses were all in the high risk corridor in Africa and Asia (10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator).  We talked about the business having the right person, being in the right place, with the right product and the right plan.

Sometimes a business in these high risk areas may have everything right: they may have a good entrepreneurial person, be in a place where research shows a strong growth sector, have a product that clearly creates value, and have a plan that is working.  What can then bring a company down?

Local political opposition or corruption  
I just reviewed a debrief we did of a manufacturing firm on an island in Indonesia.  We had helped the owner buy the firm, develop his business model, develop clients, and set up an accounting process.  However after about three years of successful operation the leased land for the factory was recalled by the owner for the building of a hotel, and despite many efforts, other locations were denied.  The company was forced to cease operations because of political cronies who kept other properties tied up.  The owner is now back in the USA, with all bills paid, all workers have other jobs and he retained a couple of million dollars in profits for his next endeavor.  There are several indications that the community was impacted for good in social and spiritual areas.

 Another business which IBEC Ventures helped start in Central Asia was a consulting company.  The owner partnered with a national attorney in good faith.  After about two years, with some good success in the business and several big international company clients, the national partner absconded with all the money and forced Peter to close down the company.  He was not discouraged but started another firm in the same city.

National factors  
One of IBEC’s most storied success businesses was in a tour company in a large country in Asia. It was well on its way to clear achievement of the Triple Bottom Line (profitability and sustainability, job creation, and social/spiritual value).  However legal decisions at the national level made it impossible for the owner to return. A visa for a newborn was refused and increased taxes seemed formidable. While the business still technically exists and an infusion of top leadership can bring it on line shortly, it does demonstrate the tenuous situation that expats have living and owning businesses abroad.

Running out of capital  
A Kingdom placement company was set up in Latin America for the purpose of recruiting executives and other high level employees to take jobs in the Middle East.  IBEC helped develop the business plan and other startup components.  However, although the company started operations and discovered a market for their services, they soon ran out of cash.  It is a wise idea for startups to raise enough capital before starting for all the startup costs plus one year of running costs.

Identity issues
There has to be a clear business purpose and identity from the start.  Some would-be entrepreneurs have plans that include more of a ministry, humanitarian or NGO focus and they forget the importance of the Triple Bottom Line or they find it impossible to make the business model work. If a person is unsure of his or her identity it can bring confusion to the business, the community and to all involved.  

Such was true for a project which started out as an NGO effort to purify drinking water.  Because the large Asian country decided they were going to stop visas to NGO practitioners, IBEC tried to help this worthy effort to become a for-profit business.  It was very difficult because the owners were trained and prepared for NGO and Not-for-Profit work and it was hard to identify with the business community, develop business skills, market the product and legitimately qualify for a business visa and achieve the Triple Bottom Line.  The business which had potential did not really get off the ground, even though the NGO water company had a viable product, an obvious demand, and the owners were skilled in the product.

The story of Soichiro Honda also includes many business failures and losses, but with his eventual success he wrote, “To me success can be achieved only through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents 1 percent of your work which results only from the 99 percent that is called failure.” Today Honda has over 100,000 employees.

Known today as a business magnate, philanthropist and social entrepreneur, Henry Ford actually failed several times:
  • He burned through all the money from his first group of investors without producing a car.
  • He eventually produced a car and raised another $60,000 in share capital, but his Detroit Auto Company went bankrupt.
  • In the 1920s, Henry Ford refused to update the Model T car, leading sales to fall dramatically.
  • Ford tried to launch a political career, but never succeeded.
Yet Ford played a tremendous role in shaping car engineering, assembly line production, business, pacifism, social leadership in business, education and other areas.

Rather than viewing failure as doom, Ford saw it as an indication that improvement was needed. Perhaps that’s how he seized on the opportunity to refine Model T manufacturing, reducing assembly time from 14 hours to about 90 minutes.  Said Ford, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again; this time more intelligently.”

BAM businesses do not always succeed, even with the 4 P’s in place. But we know that Kingdom purposes can still be achieved, whether through the failed business itself…or the experience gained and applied to future ventures.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission