“I am in the business of making wealth to distribute wealth,” says Kim Tan, who has indeed generated a lot of wealth and distributed a lot of wealth.
Which is not, as we shall see, quite the same things as giving it away. Kim is, in fact, one of the richest people in the UK. An international venture capitalist with a clear focus on trying to do something significant about global poverty, doing it in ways that have been shaped by deep and long reflection on the biblical teaching about poverty and in particular by the Old Testament concept of Jubilee and its centrality in the ministry of Jesus (Luke 4). Today, he is involved in developing ways of doing business on a large scale, which may indeed provide an alternative to contemporary models of poverty alleviation.
I meet him at his home in Surrey. It is a beautiful, large, old stone house, set in acres of fields. I am greeted by Molly, a golden hound with a gently wagging tail who is surely far too friendly to this complete stranger. But there again there is a peacefulness about Kim and his wife Sally’s home, and indeed something about the way that they have decorated it, that is wondrously welcoming. Great wealth can sometimes intimidate – I just feel at home. Kim is the son of a Malaysian businessman who came to Britain at 16, and soon became a Christian. He was as he put it ‘a reluctant convert’ but, having found Christ, at what he considered an old age, he felt he needed to catch up and knew he needed good teaching. So when it came to choosing a university, he first identified 3 where the best Bible teachers in the UK were and, from that list, chose a university with a relevant course. He ended up in Guildford, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he ended up being taught by David Pawson whose combination of Biblical depth and determination to engage with the great issues of the day deepened Kim’s understanding of God’s concern for all of life. This combined with his church’s deep concern for world mission and its attitude to money – their policy was to give away 50% of the budget to mission and to give away any budget surplus at the end of the financial year so that they could look to God afresh.
From Community to Venture Capital
Kim studied biochemistry, fascinated by the creativity of God, and began to live in community with a group of Christians with the goal of creating a context in which they could do discipleship and evangelism together. They began by acquiring the cheapest house in Guildford. Over the years, though, the group grew to around 45 living in 12 houses in two streets. As a community, they pored over the Scriptures every night, bought commentaries and theological dictionaries, and found someone to teach them basic New Testament Greek so that they could read the texts and the commentaries with more discernment. All this was in the cause of seeking ways to respond to the radical nature of Christ and the radical lifestyle of the early church. Indeed they had ‘all things in common’, except, Kim points out, their wives and their books. They lived simply. At one point they decided that the men would live on £10 a day and the women on £20 – the women got more because they were always feeding people.
Looking back, Kim sees that this experience “gave God a chance to deal with our material addiction. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have learned how to hold things lightly.” Which is a good thing to learn when you are holding millions. Even then, though, there was an entrepreneurial edge to their way of life. “We realised that we were buying so many books that we might as well set up our own book company, so that we could get them cheaper and pass on the discounts to students.” The company, Bethel Books, still exists today. Similarly, one of their members was a gifted mechanic, so when he graduated, they set him up in business. In both cases, the investments were designed to serve people’s interests, not merely to make money.
Liberating People’s Potential
From the money he made, he began to invest in other companies, bringing a distinctive approach to the venture capital process. Kim had learned a great deal about servanthood from his early contact with Roger Forster and Alan Kreider and the Anabaptist tradition, and had been gripped by the example of Jesus the servant. So, for example, when he and Sally married, he insisted on crafting his own vows, because the traditional marriage vows do not include the concept of servanthood, which is, after all, the dominant New Testament metaphor for marriage. Importantly, he sees Jesus’ servanthood characterised by a tremendous desire to see people liberated to fulfil their potential in Him – that they may have abundant life.
This theme of ‘fulfilling potential’ is indeed a motif that carries across all Kim’s activities. You can see it in the way his company invests in ideas – helping others fulfil their dreams, but not simply by writing a cheque; but by offering them skills where they don’t have them – in developing the business plan, in helping them with mergers and acquisitions, and so on. You see it in his preference for investing in companies that are to be located in areas of high unemployment – in India, in China and in Africa – so as to generate jobs for people who would otherwise not have them.
You see this yearning to help people fulfil their potential in his exploration of what he has called Social Venture Capitalism. “People need jobs,” he argues, “more than aid,” and are more interested in taking responsibility than taking cheques. So Kim has actively looked for opportunities not only to invest in businesses where there is endemic poverty, but to do it in a way that empowers everyone involved for the long term. So, in setting up a safari game park in a malaria-free, and almost job-free area of South Africa, he hasn’t just appointed a manager to train, for example, the fencing team of 65 workers. He’s appointed a manager to train a fencing team, to pay them well, to house them well, to teach them to read, and to equip them for future employment. Indeed, when it was over, the leaders of the team were well enough trained for Kim and his team to ask them whether they wanted to set up their own business. Note the radical point here – Kim was not interested in starting a fencing business himself and employing the team, but rather empowering them to do it for themselves. And indeed, they helped the team write a business plan and negotiate an eight-month fencing contract with South African National Parks. And that is very significant, because every job created has the potential to affect 10 other people positively.
But it is also significant because the principle behind this is that of allowing people to enjoy stewardship. In the Jubilee of the Old Testament, the people of Israel were called to cancel all debt and restore all lands to the original families. And Kim sees that in Luke 4, Jesus is re-inaugurating the Jubilee. Indeed, the Lord’s prayer is a ‘jubilary’ prayer: ‘forgive us our debts as we ourselves have also remitted them to our debtors’ (cf John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, Eerdmans, p66). The liberator God provides a mechanism for a fresh start, and the generous, delegator God wants people to be able to take responsibility. In the Jubilee, the means to wealth is re-distributed back to people. This is not a charity mentality, but a stewardship mentality.
A Share (or more) for all
Furthermore, Kim notes that wealth is not meant to stay in the hands of a few people. And that is why in every project he has been involved in, there has always been some element of share distribution. So even in a joint venture with the communist Chinese Government to commercialise six products, he insisted that the senior scientists would get some share ownership. Similarly, when he built a cancer hospital in Malaysia, he insisted on issuing share options. The Board thought he meant for the senior managers – he meant for everyone. But most of the workforce had never owned a share before and didn’t have any capital to exercise their option. Kim offered them a loan that turned out to be interest free. Because, as he told them, the Bible says we should not charge interest. Kim is clearly a generous man, but this generosity is not simply the capacity to give money away, but the capacity to create opportunity. “Some people, he says, “are like rocks, they give when you strike them. Some people are like oranges, they give when you squeeze them. Some people are like flowers, they give because it’s in their nature to give. And when I meet people I ask myself do they smell of Jesus? Have they known the deep, deep grace of God?”
As one of Kim’s old friends put it, Kim has a much greater capacity to believe that something is possible than most of us. He sees opportunity and thinks, why not? So for example, his bankers advised him against investing in the game park in South Africa – the country is unstable, the Rand is weak, the white population are leaving, you don’t know anything about the leisure business… But he has done it, not in a rush of defiant, arrogant impetuosity but he has done it – two truck loads of animals are being delivered to the park every week and the South African National Parks Board is their joint venture partner.
This, however, is not simply a single good news story, but a potential model for the future. Kim is demonstrating to governments and to major institutions that social venture capital has something to offer the world’s poor, which the Non-Government Organisation (NGO) model often cannot. Often, the NGOs don’t know how to run businesses. That means that the skills required to make loans turn into sustainable enterprise – whether micro or macro – are often not there. And even if they are, what Kim is beginning to prove on the ground, is that the private sector can make a significant contribution to alleviating poverty.
And it is this that has led him to find other like-minded business people and start the Transformational Business Network (TBN). It’s caught the imagination of many Christian business people, who can use what they are good at to make a difference to the world’s poor. Today, there are over 170 members of TBN working on business projects all over the world, using their holiday time to do field trips, reviewing business opportunities, and offering their talents to others so that others may develop their talents. “Lots of Christian business people are seeing that there’s something they can do for Christ – besides making coffee, putting out chairs and writing cheques. If the church really believes that people are our biggest assets why do we let them rot in the pews? Here are all these highly gifted, talented people – creative, innovative with superb executional skills, and we let them rot in the pews!” There it is again. Kim really, really hates to see potential wasted. He really, really wants to see people – the rich in the West, and the poor wherever they are – live a life that helps them fulfil their potential in Christ.
Smells like flowers to me.
Kim Tan’s lastest book The Jubilee Gospel (2008) is published by Authentic.
To find out more about the Transformational Business Network, go to www.tbnetwork.org
The White Swan Formula is a brand new LICC resource, published in response to the credit crunch. Written by James Featherby, who has worked in mergers and acquisitions at a top 5 City law firm for 25 years, The White Swan Formula puts forward the case for a rediscovery of a values-based approach to economics, that can deliver profitability alongside the common good.
The credit crunch has delivered a profound shock to the foundations upon which the Western economic model was built. But will our financial institutions and governments simply weather the storm, make few minor regulatory adjustments, and carry on as before? Can we take this perhaps once-in-a-generation opportunity to consider the values that drive the system, and reflect on what values should be driving the system?
In The White Swan Formula, James Featherby puts forward the case for a rediscovery of a values-based approach that can deliver profitability alongside the common good.
Download a PDF version.
Purchase a hard copy.
James Featherby reviews “Money” by Eric Lonergan, part of the Art of Living series.
This perceptive and succinct book takes a fresh look at our relationship with money, finance and investment. Lonegan, a macro hedge fund manager at M&G Investments, is no Christian, and indeed painfully describes an intellectually sub-prime Alpha course he once attended. Similarly, seekers after economic justice might be disappointed by his scant reference to fairness. However, those of faith will find him addressing with honesty the paradox of better societies, built with the increased inter-dependence that markets and globalisation can bring, sitting alongside the problem of our characters, still locked in a primeval state of insecurity and status seeking.
Lonegan’s most insightful observations are on the relationship between money and the future. Lonegan carefully demonstrates how we unconsciously use money as a hedge against future uncertainty, and how, through borrowing, we trade with our own future, often to beneficial effect – inter temporal exchange as he calls it. Likewise he describes the stock market principally in terms of insurance through diversification against the needs of tomorrow, rather than of allocation of capital for investment today. He rightly diagnoses that much of our confusion about money is either because we either think about it too little, and so do not understand its purpose and benefits, or because we think about it too much, and so confuse value with price.
His description of the origins of money are alarmingly clear and simple – the printing press and fractional reserve banking (not as difficult as it sounds!). He argues cogently for a simple prescription to our current financial woes – dropping banknotes from helicopters, as per Friedman, and then turning off the printing press when inflation emerges. I’ll leave the economists to fight over that one.
“Money” is published by Acumen, 2009
The current credit crunch stems from a deeper moral and spiritual crunch. At stake is a virtue on which capitalism depends – thrift. Peter Heslam argues for the recovery of this virtue as a solution to the current credit crisis.
For most of the twentieth century, nearly everyone in advanced economies had access to grassroots saving and investment institutions, including building societies, mutual funds, saving book accounts and credit unions.
While most of these pro-thrift institutions provided loans, they demanded evidence of credit worthiness, and required a substantial deposit before allowing someone a loan. Lotteries, casinos, predatory interest rates (usury) and other forms of thriftlessness were outlawed. For sure, pawnbrokers, bookmakers and loan sharks existed, but their operations were generally considered disreputable.
Today, the institutional landscape looks very different. While a pro-thrift sector still exists, it fails to serve ordinary citizens. Indeed, many commercial banks and investment funds have abandoned the small saver in favour of ‘high net worth individuals’ to whom they supply an ever-increasing variety of tax-efficient investment opportunities.
Simultaneously, financial institutions targeting low-income (‘sub-prime’) consumers have proliferated, along with credit card, hire purchase and student loan companies, cheque cashing outlets, loan brokers, lotteries and online gambling facilities. The growth of this anti-thrift sector is partly responsible for the high levels of consumer debt that have become an accepted feature of advanced economies, but now threaten to undermine them.
The emerging two-tier institutional framework serving rich investors and poor debtors not only raises questions about the morality of debt, about which today’s moral and religious leaders are generally outspoken, but also about the importance of thrift, about which such leaders are generally silent.
Despite this silence, Hebrew and Christian scriptures provide solid foundations for a theology of thrift. Indeed, the word probably derives from an Old Norse word meaning ‘to thrive’. Literally, it means ‘prosperity’ or ‘well-being’ – meanings encompassed in the Hebrew notion of shalom, which is central to the biblical theme of redemption. Not to be confused with ‘stingy’, thrift is an amalgam of attitudes and behaviours that leads to prosperity.
True, Jesus warned against laying up treasure on earth (Mt 6:19-21). But his warning is against greed and miserliness, which undermine thrift. In fact, the fear that generally accompanies these vices is evident in the words and actions of the third servant in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30). This servant’s fear, based on a harsh picture of God, led to actions that were unimaginative, unproductive and risk-averse. The fearless words and actions of the two servants who ‘put their money to work’ reflect a God who inspires the kind of imagination, productivity and responsible risk-taking that characterise the thrift needed to convert the barrenness of money into the fruitfulness of capital.
Having made this conversion, which underlies all investment and entrepreneurship, these two servants are welcomed into God’s shalom economy: ‘I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness’ (Mt 25:21,23). Their thrift is rewarded with greater stewardship responsibility, and with happiness. This resonates with two further meanings of thrift: ‘prudence’ and ‘providence’, words that appear in the names of two large investment companies that began as explicitly pro-thrift institutions: the Prudential and Friends Provident.
All this seems a long way from the situation today, in which debt levels have increased disproportionately to income. While easy access to credit can open the door to greater opportunity and freedom, it can, in the absence of thrift, close that door. Indeed, the repossessions associated with sub-prime lending are now slamming shut many doors, not all of them metaphorical.
Some attribute all this to individual greed and recklessness. But institutions, because of the part they play in shaping human choices, are crucial. They have the potential either to build or undermine the norms, values, habits, trust and sense of purpose – i.e. social capital – that augment individual decisions with wider social considerations and commitments. Because such capital reduces the need for litigation and monitoring, it is ‘efficient’, and promotes economic growth.
The tragedy with anti-thrift institutions is that they promote a culture of debt in which people often find it impossible to delay gratification and fulfil goals that go beyond material concerns. A psychology is instilled that emphasises the hedonic, rather than the productive, use of money. This psychology is alien to the creative, future-orientated and purposive mindset that is commended in Jesus’ parable and which encourages investment. The lottery now presents itself to poor debtors as a means of redemption. Decoupled from hard work, reward is attached to chance and fate. Would-be habitual savers and investors prepared to delay gratification are being made habitual bettors content only with instant gratification.
What can be done about this? Those who say ‘nothing’, either because the obstacles are too high or because the market needs to be left to its own devices, are like those who argued that nothing could be done about the wearing of seat belts, or smoking in public places. And there are precedents for taking decisive action. The British government introduced a new threepence coin in 1937, depicting the thrift plant on one side, thereby promoting thrift by way of a pun. Soon afterwards, during wartime, the British and US governments actively encouraged their citizens to save by issuing war savings.
This article is too short to develop pro-thrift proposals in detail. But opinion formers, who are increasingly emphasizing the importance of ‘happiness’, should draw inspiration to do so from the way in which happiness is obtained in Jesus’ parable. In the meantime, the following suggestions may be worth considering:
The second of these suggestions could draw from the experience of micro-finance organizations in developing countries, such as the Grameen Bank, whose operations have strong relational dimensions – the pressure to repay is mediated through a group of fellow borrowers.
With regard to the third suggestion, adverts could use a slogan like ‘every ticket wins’. Millions of consumers, currently bombarded with gambling and credit options, would be offered a rare opportunity – the opportunity to invest.
This would be no more, and no less, than the freedom and opportunity of the market economy – an economy built on thrift.
Dr. Peter S Heslam
Peter is Director of Transforming Business, Cambridge University (www.transformingbusiness.net), email@example.com. This article first appeared in Faith in Business Quarterly, and is reproduced by kind permission.
In the aftermath of the credit crunch, Mark Greene wonders whether Christians failed in their duty to the world.
I did hear the trumpet actually.
Once. Clearly. Publicly. Winsomely.
It was 2005, in the City of London at the Guildhall.
But it is one thing to hear the trumpet it is another to respond to it. But we shall come to that.
* * *
And so it has come to pass that the world has got itself into a huge financial mess.
And it is not at all good.
And unlikely to get much better for a while.
And the commentators and the pundits have all passed judgement on the wickedness of the bankers, and the greed of the stockbrokers, and the cowardice of governments to ensure that appropriate controls were in place.
And friends in finance have lost their jobs, people who used to earn lavish salaries are now staying at home to pack the kids off to school and work on their CVs. And friends not in finance have begun to lose jobs, people whose salaries were not so lavish and who months before had already begun to worry about the rise in the cost of their food and energy.
And it has also come to pass that we have all found ourselves implicated in the biggest bail-out in the history of the world. Willingly or unwillingly, cheerfully or resentfully, taxpayers and ordinary citizens of the Western world have watched as their governments have contrived a way to rescue the banks that gambled our pensions and our savings and our holidays and our financial security on the roulette wheel of their greed – Casino Globale.
Indeed, we might reflect on how long it took us to cancel some of the debt of the poorest nations on earth, the debt of people living on less than a dollar a day. We might reflect on how slow we have been to find money for those we had often consigned to a spiral of poverty through our power to control the price of the commodities they had hoped would be used to pay us back. And then we might reflect on how quickly we have found money for ourselves.
And it has also come to pass that those who had not seen this debacle coming have become wise, as we often are after the fact. Still, better wise late, than foolish forever. Particularly if wisdom about the past is translated into wisdom for the future.
Perhaps we might begin by asking why we hadn’t seen it coming. Why hadn’t we seen the fragility of the whole house of financial cards? After the demise of Barings? After Enron and Worldcom? After the debacle at the French national bank? After the collapse of Northern Rock?
What were we as Christians doing all those years while the West got richer, and bonuses grew ridiculous, and it was obvious that people were being given gargantuan incentives to take humongous risks and very little incentive not to?
And for me the words of John Stott boomed in my head:
“… it’s no good blaming the meat and the bacteria that make the meat putrefy; it’s the fault of the salt that’s not there to stop it going bad. And if the media have gone bad, so bad that we want to take our aerials out, who is to blame? Are you pointing your finger at them? Over there? I point the finger here. It’s our fault. It’s the fault of the Christian people. If only we could be the salt of the earth as we were meant to be, and refine, and reform and rescue for Jesus Christ.”
He spoke those words in response to Malcolm Muggeridge’s Christ and the Media, a negative appraisal of television back in the early 1980s. Muggeridge, a brilliant TV broadcaster, had come to believe that TV could never capture the numinous, or the holy; that it was always somehow reductive. John Stott’s response was not to encourage Christians to flee the media, but rather to engage in it, not just to write letters to programmers, but to write scripts for new programmes, to work to become producers and directors and actors.
There weren’t that many Christians in the mainstream media back then, but today’s finance sector does not suffer from a dearth of Christians. On the contrary, the City of London is more than well-salted with Christians in very senior positions in finance, in law, in property. Lunchtime services in a number of City churches have long brimmed with hundreds of worshippers and there’s been a very well attended City Prayer Breakfast for years. Did they not see it? Did their pastors not see it? Did I not see it? Did no one blow the trumpet? Do we bear no responsibility at all for what has happened? After all, have we not been given Word and Spirit to guide our thinking, and impel our action?
Furthermore, the body of Christ is called to contribute to making the world a better place. Yes, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we learn that our citizenship is in heaven; but that is not a call to disengage with society, but to transform it. Philippi, as a Roman colony, was meant to be a “Rome away from Rome”, as Graham Cray puts it. As such, the people of Philippi, as citizens of Rome, were meant to create a society that accurately reflected Roman values. Paul, then, is using the analogy to call the church to live out the heavenly kingdom away from heaven, a community that reflects Christ’s ways, communicates His truth and is infused with His life. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven… in London as in heaven, in financial institutions as in heaven. In the City of the 21st century, it clearly wasn’t happening.
What can we learn from these recent years? Might it be that our preaching and teaching has not engaged with the core ideologies of our time, and has not given Christians the kind of theological tools necessary to begin to critique the system they find themselves part of. After all, you can be a lawyer, never overcharge your client, never fiddle your expenses; but, through your agility with tax laws, on behalf of a multi-national mining corporation, be involved in the systematic empoverishment of the nation whose ore the company has extracted, but to whom almost no tax has been paid. In sum, you may do nothing dishonest but still be involved in something that withholds basic healthcare from hundreds of thousands of children. Perhaps our discipleship helped people operate honestly within the system, but failed to help them think critically about the system.
Furthermore, we might learn that if we are not to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2 ), theologians and practitioners need to spend much more time listening to one another and to God’s word in a planned, deliberate and disciplined way. After all, economics is too important to be left to the economists, and too complex to be left to the theologians.
Perhaps we might learn that we are often in too much of a hurry, that perhaps we are not prepared to invest the time, and therefore the money, in developing wisdom. We want our pastors wise, but many hardly have a book budget, never mind study leave. We want our archbishops to be able to speak credibly to the issues of the age, but without the research support a junior MP would enjoy.
At the same time, you can’t always wait til you understand everything before you speak. Sometimes you have to go with your spiritual instinct. We might learn that it’s better to question the morality of a system you don’t fully understand, and be written off as a meddling, ignorant idiot, than to remain silent and wait til disaster proves your suspicions were all too well-founded.
And for myself, I need to remember that I heard the trumpet, but didn’t think it blew for me.
It was 2005 in the City. In the Guildhall. And the man that blew the trumpet was James Featherby, the Chair of the City Prayer Breakfast, and the main speaker that year. James is a solicitor with one of the big five law firms. He loves the City in the best sense of the word ‘love’ and, after making that clear, he asked how the Beatitudes might apply in the City and wondered whether “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” had any meaning there. Then he went on to imagine what might happen if the City was permeated by the fragrance of Christ. Here’s some of what he said (the full text can be found at www.licc.org.uk/featherby):
Of course, it’s a dream. Such dreams need work and God to become a reality. And they need other people. James sounded the trumpet but, to put it bluntly, though its notes were appreciated, few, it seemed, chose to walk to its radical melody. It’s hard to change. Very hard. Still, the reality is that the values that led to the crash that we are now experiencing were not robustly challenged by the Christian community. And surely we bear some responsibility for that.
In sum, it is not just the bankers and the stockbrokers and the politician who have reason to repent. So do we. For ourselves and for them. Just as Nehemiah brought the devastation of Jerusalem before the Lord and acknowledged his own and the nation’s culpability for the damage caused (Nehemiah 1:5-7), so now perhaps we too need to bring the state of our nation before the Lord and acknowledge our own and the people’s sin. “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
And then we must begin to rebuild. With the trumpet and the trowel.
“We were perilously close to collapse. We were looking over the edge.”
Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, BBC Panorama, 29 December 2008
“Peston recommends a simple old fashioned remedy: ‘People got away from a basic sense of right and wrong.'”
BBC Panorama, 29 December 2008
“We are in the grip of the most significant global financial crisis for seven decades.”
Martin Wolf, Financial Times, 7 January 2009
The credit crunch offers the church an unprecedented opportunity.
For the first time in a generation there is, within the political, regulatory and financial community, real interest in discussing the best principles upon which to base national and international business.
We have been here before. The Rowntrees, Cadburys, Frys, Colemans, Barclays, Buxtons, Thomas Cooks and others of years gone by changed business in their generation by tackling similar issues to those faced today. They left a lasting legacy, and we can do the same.
The City of London has significant influence around the world, in terms of setting financial best practice. This means that there is an opportunity not merely to set a new national course, but also a new international course, for a global financial community that has learnt some important lessons about both its technical competence and its character:
It is these realisations that are causing the financial community to look for answers. There are huge financial incentives to find them.
Contrary to populist fulminations, the reality is that the level of honesty in the City (certainly if one defines that as compliance with law) is high, and probably substantially higher than in other business spheres. The banking and financial services industries are the most highly regulated markets in the world, and practices that are commonplace in other markets have long been prohibited.
There was no appreciation in the City that sub-prime mortgages had been sold in the US through sharp practice, and the asset price bubble, risky bank business models and highly leveraged transactions that have wreaked such havoc occurred through no breach of regulation.
So what went wrong?
After all, business and finance, both in the UK and in the US, are not short of Christians.
Some conclusions that can be drawn are as follows:
However, some cautionary notes:
This absence of positive values in the financial sector is a symptom of the broader values dilemma present in contemporary Western culture. We will struggle with the former as long as that broader dilemma remains.
For example, it can be confusing to many who are not Christians to equate values with morality, even though within the church we may believe that the two are often synonymous. Many would find it confusing, were we to call something immoral that is permissible within a highly regulated market. We also need to be careful about judging those who have been educated in something of a moral vacuum. If a car driver who has never seen or heard of black ice has an accident in winter, whilst driving within the speed limit, and injures a child, who is to blame?
I would suggest that we need to do three things:
God’s values for business of course include putting service of others before self, restraint, justice, respect for others, trust, rest and reflection, sufficiency, honesty, stewardship, truthfulness, responsibility and community. These values are no less valid or important when one moves from the personal to the business sphere, but they can be more complex to apply.
In rediscovering God’s values for business, we will also need to reinforce a positive view of the role of business in fulfilling the Genesis mandate; providing human dignity, improving welfare and alleviating poverty.
“… the illusion that a policy of mere redistribution of existing wealth can definitively resolve the problem [of poverty] must be set aside. In a modern economy, the value of assets is utterly dependent on the capacity to generate revenue in the present and the future. Wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty, which must be kept in mind if the fight against material poverty is to be effective in the long term.”
Pope Benedict XVI, 1 January, 2009
We need to celebrate business for the common good.
I welcome the motion carried by Synod on ‘Faith, Work and Economic Life’ in July 2008, affirming work as a spiritual activity, and requesting the Mission and Public Affairs Council to provide support in this area.
As churches, we certainly need to encourage and equip those who work in the world to think Biblically about what they do, and the system in which they work. We need constantly to guard against the risk of increasing the tension that individual Christians can feel about being in the world, thus causing withdrawal rather than engagement. Let us make disciples who, like Zaccheus, can return to a fallen system, in the full knowledge of its shortcomings, and then do the same job as before but differently.
I would, however, encourage a move to lift the horizon of the church’s contribution beyond work and so as to include business. It is as important that we celebrate business as a spiritual activity as it is that we celebrate work.
Much attention has already been given by a number of organisations to personal issues within the sphere of work, and that focus is welcome. Ongoing caution is needed to ensure that the focus does not set up false choices between personal holiness and work.
Far less attention has, however, been given developing a robust and relevant theology for finance and business as practiced now. There is a feeling that ethics has failed to keep up with modern medicine. The feeling is the same in relation to modern finance.
However, the debate is not just about ethics. We need to offer life, not just set controls, through our confidence that God’s values in the long run bring blessing, prosperity and freedom.
In these days of international finance and global business, who is the neighbour of a screen based-trader? When should a fund manager not maximise the profit of a pension scheme on which you rely for your old age? How far should a bank be its brother’s keeper? What are the moral issues raised by a residential mortgage-backed securitisation? When does enough become too much? When is it my duty not to enforce a debt? When is leverage irresponsible? When is speculation wrong? How far is it legitimate to utilise limited liability between consenting adults? Can hedge funds be good? What should I learn from the Old Testament ban on charging interest? And how do I inspire a sceptical audience with God’s values once I have found them? These are only the beginnings of the questions that need to be addressed.
The City is looking for answers. A partnership is needed between business and the church, based on dialogue, not declaration. Neither has the answers without the other.
To quote ‘Faith, Work and Economic Life’, itself quoting Archbishop William Temple from 1942:
“Nine-tenths of the work of the church in the world is done by Christian people fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which in themselves are not part of the official system of the church at all…”
The City desperately needs the vision, support, values, wisdom, humour, creativity and imagination of the church, as well as its uncomfortable plumb lines. With that support, alongside prayer and the Holy Spirit, those Christians and others of goodwill who work in business and finance can assist in forging a better future, both nationally and internationally.
James is a partner of a large international City law firm, where he has worked for over 25 years, and a Fellow of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
In this book, aimed primarily at leaders and managers, Schluter and Lee apply the thesis for success they first developed in The R Factor almost twenty years ago: the belief that relationships are the key to superior and sustainable results. Here is a leadership and management philosophy that challenges the short-term incentive culture of business today.
The market driven culture keeps telling us that the bottom line is financial, and most of the opportunities on offer have to be bought with hard cash. But the authors show that markets and companies are, in the end, only groups of people working with one another, and it is the so-called ‘soft’ issues that are in fact the hard issues. Relationships, within and around organizations, are an intangible asset that drive the whole enterprise and make a huge impact on performance.
So many conversations about performance are backward-looking – focusing on records of achievement – often for the purpose of assessing performance-related pay. Yet conversations that guide the future of the business and of the team, conversations about shared goals and development, are being neglected. Management that only rewards individual and short-term performance risks stifling behaviours that build long-term stability.
After a summary of how relational thinking totally changes our worldview, Schluter and Lee provide a practical tool to assess the quality of relationships – a five-fold lens of relational health (contact, time, knowledge, power and purpose). They look through that lens at many of the experiences of managerial life, including time management, finance, systems, travel, conflict resolution and the culture of the office, showing how relational thinking can make a big impact on the way organizations and individuals work.
The relational manager understands that the experiences of connectedness, belonging, mutual understanding and a sense of shared identity, produce better outcomes. Unproductive time – often referred to as ‘downtime’ is a hidden opportunity. Relational managers organize downtime – lunches, coffee breaks, social time – it’s one of the most important things they do. Why? Because in the rhythm of the working day, downtime plays a vital part in relationship building, and indeed in sharing information and opinions about the business that might otherwise find no outlet. Importantly, experience and research show that people leave managers, not jobs or companies. And high turnover is expensive.
We need this wake-up call showing how the so-called developed world is gripped by relational poverty – both at work and at home. Fractured relationships and fragmented lives are today’s norm, and pervasive communications technology that claims to enable more connectedness in fact limits real connectedness in a culture of ‘continuous partial attention’.
We are in a war over reality – a battle to understand and define the world as it really is. In this war, many still believe the lie that it is ‘Money that makes the world go around’. Schluter and Lee’s book unmasks the lie, and is a powerful revelation of the centrality of relationships in personal, business and global success. It will take, though, yet more evidence to convince everyone, and I would have welcomed a richer set of case studies.
What I especially like about the book is the way it subtly and progressively instils in the reader an altered perspective. It trains us to think relationally about situations and outcomes; to see our workplaces and our world in a different and deeper way; to get beyond the mechanics of measurement to the reality that is at the heart of organizations, and of life.
The Relational Manager is published by Lion, 2009
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