Jeff Haanen

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Business

BusinessCultureEconomyVocationWork

Theology for Business (Keynote Address)

This is the keynote address I gave for the recent event “For Whose Glory: Exploring Faithful Practice in Life, Leadership and Business.” Below I’ve included a brief outline of my talk. The video also includes all slides from my presentation. Like it? Visit my speaking page by clicking the menu above. 

I. Introduction: What is the purpose of business?

  1. The answer from business culture
  2. The answer from church culture
  3. The answer from conferences like this

Thesis: Christian theology is just as important for your business life as finance, operations or sales, customers or employees.

II. First, the doctrine of CREATION and FALL calls us to THINK THEOLOGICALLY about the purpose of business.

  1. The purpose of business is to provide for the needs of world by serving customers and creating meaningful work, while giving glory to God.
  2. It provides
    1. The goods and services we depend on every day
    2. Meaningful work
    3. The wealth we need to afford those goods and services
  3. Business is an extension of God’s own work of creation
  4. The Fall impacted both our work and our business, which we see most clearly in the Prophets
    1. Idolatry causes injustice
    2. The hinge between provision and oppression is the God we worship in business life.
  5. “For whose glory?” is a critical questions which will determine how we answer the question of the purpose of business.

III. Second, the doctrine of the TRINITY calls us to EMBRACE RELATIONSHIPS.

  1. The American workforce is stressed, disengaged, and unhappy (Gallup/BCG Research)
  2. God is relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and healthy businesses are bound together through healthy relationships based on a foundation of trust.

IV. Third, the doctrine of the RESURRECTION calls us to CREATE GOOD WORK.

  1. We tend to not talk about business at church because we don’t think it’s a part of the gospel, or “good news”
  2. The resurrection calls us to think more comprehensively about redemption, creation, and, thus, our work.
  3. Our daily work matters because God is redeeming not just individual souls but all of creation.

V. Fourth, the doctrine of VOCATION calls us to SEEK DEEP SPIRITUAL HEALTH.

  1. The exhilaration and speed of business life rarely affords us the opportunity to slow down and ask “Who are we becoming?”
  2. The word vocation comes form the latin root vox, or voice: it’s about responding to the voice of God in the day to day lives, including our business decisions.

VI. Finally, the CROSS calls us to SERVE OTHERS SACRIFICIALLY.

  1. Central to the gospel is that Christ gave his life for ours.
  2. It’s one thing to talk about customer service in our business, or even creating a company of “love.” But it’s another to talk about sacrificial love.
  3. Boaz was a model “Christian business leader,” as he calls us to hire and care for the “Ruth’s” of our day.

VII. Conclusion: Christian faith calls us to think theologically about the purpose of business, to embrace relationships, to create work in a spirit of hope, to admit our flaws as we seek deep spiritual health, and to serve others sacrificially in our city.  

BusinessEconomyWork

Investing in Human Flourishing: The Story of Eventide Funds (Videos)

“The real issue we face today,” says Robin John, CEO of Eventide Funds, an asset management company, “is that investors are divorced from their investing.” Most of us invest money for retirement in mutual funds, but many of us also have no real idea of which companies we own, or even how the companies we invest in are being operated.

In April I had the chance to visit the Eventide Funds team in Boston (along with my adorable daughter Lily), to go a little deeper.

In a new DIFW short film (5:23), crafted by award-winning documentary film-maker Nathan Clarke, Finny Kuruvilla, Jason Myre and the Eventide Funds team ask pressing questions about values-based investing, investing as ownership, and how God’s purpose for business might shape our retirement portfolios.

Don’t have time to watch the whole video now? Watch these excerpts and share with a friend. 

Investing is Ownership – Eventide Funds from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

Investing in Human Flourishing – Eventide Funds from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

Ethical Investing – Eventide Funds from Denver Institute on Vimeo.

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BusinessEconomyTheologyWork

The Quiet Unraveling of Work in America

 

On July 16-19, I will be presenting a brief paper at the Christian Economic Forum in San Francisco entitled, “The Quiet Unraveling of Work in America: Three Economic Challenges and What Christian Leaders Can Do.” The CEF Leadership collated the conference papers into a book, and kindly provided a PDF of my paper for distribution. The content of the paper is below, and the PDF can be accessed by clicking the link above.

The Quiet Unraveling of Work in America

Three Economic Challenges and What Christian Leaders Can Do

On August 1, 2007, the I35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis looked like any other bridge in America. Commuters stuck in rush hour were waiting impatiently, talking on their phones, and assuming they would get safely to their destinations. Yet at 6:05 p.m., a strange noise was heard underneath the bridge. Suddenly it collapsed, sending 111 vehicles and 18 construction workers plummeting 115 feet into the river. In total, 13 people were killed and 145 injured in an unexpected tragedy.

In the same way, on the surface the American economy looks healthy. The Dow Jones is now over 20,000, unemployment rates are low, and economic growth is strong. But there are signs that the support system under the bridge of the American economy is beginning to wobble.

There are three worrisome signs that our economic support structure–the American workforce–is beginning to unravel:

  • Prime age men are exiting the workforce at historically unprecedented rates.
  • The “precarious” economy has made work for millions more part-time, less stable, and less connected to a coherent career-path.
  • Work is now defined by a narrative of individual achievement rather than service, which puts stress on businesses, levels of public engagement, and our pension system.

This essay briefly explores each of these three challenges to work in America, in addition to what Christian leaders might do to heal these fissures in American life.

Men Without Work

There is a silent army of able-bodied men in America who have dropped out of the workforce. Nicholas Eberstadt’s new book, Men Without Work, shows that from 1948-2015 the percentage of prime age men in the workforce dropped from 85.8% to 68.2%, a rate lower than it was in the 1930s during the Great Depression.[i] Today there are 10 million men ages 25-54 who are either unemployed or have stopped looking for work altogether.[ii]

Perhaps more overwhelming is the fact that these men tend to have no college degree, no wife or children, and live in economically depressed parts of the United States such as Appalachia, the Rust Belt, or the Deep South. Books like Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America from 1960-2010 show that the white working class is no longer the virtuous “blue collar America” of political lore. Murray notes that less than a third of children grow up in households with both biological parents, men claim disability benefits at alarming rates, and church-going rates have plummeted.[iii]

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family & Culture in Crisis has pulled back the veil on what it’s like to live in white working class America. Raised by his Mamaw (grandmother), Vance grew up with a host of father figures, a drug addicted mother, and in a culture of hillbilly honor, often retaliating at every slight, especially toward outsiders.

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, notes that among America’s white working class–many of whom were the key swing voters for Donald Trump–suffering and resentment is rampant. Among this group, cirrhosis of the liver is up 50%, suicide has increased 78%, and drug and alcohol poisonings have skyrocketed 323% since 1999.[iv]

“There is indeed a gap in this country, and it has now led to a political revolution, a significant realignment in American politics,” Brooks writes. “But the relevant gap wasn’t income.” For blue collar America that has seen manufacturing jobs go overseas and real wages decline, the relevant gap was a loss of dignity.

The Splintered Career

Another factor impacting the American economy is that the age of working for a single employer for a career is long gone.

Today, we live in the “gig” economy. In 2015, freelancers in the US labor force numbered an estimated 54 million, or as much as one third of the workforce.[v] Researchers have dubbed this the “precarious” economy as they describe the massive shift toward temporary, part-time, or contract work. Today, the average job tenure is less than 4 years (and closer to 18 months for millennials) and a young worker can expect to have 11-12 careers over a lifetime.[vi]

Both low-income and middle class workers have entered new territory. The challenge for the poor is trying to cobble together a variety of part-time jobs to support their families, most of which pay no benefits. Sociologist Allison J. Pugh found that many low-income families struggle to stay afloat financially as they try to navigate constantly changing social ties, relationships, and employers.[vii]

For the middle class, the challenge is to “reinvent yourself” constantly, learning new technologies and skills throughout a lifetime. A college degree 20 years ago is no longer enough. The job you prepared for at university may no longer exist today. Technology is transforming the professions as much as it is the trades.

The challenge for both groups is to find a sense of vocational identity and social location in a community amidst constantly changing careers. “What do you do?” is now a hard question to answer at a dinner party. Even harder is trying to figure out what you might do for a paycheck tomorrow.

The “Big Me” Culture

A final worrisome sign of trouble in American workforce is that we now live in a work culture that prizes individual achievement and personal gain over sacrificial service.

“We have seen a shift,” says The New York Times columnist David Brooks, “from a culture of humility to what you might call the Big Me.”[viii] In his book, The Road to Character, Brooks explains that since WWII America has shifted from a culture that was realistic about sin and personal limitation to one of self-centeredness, personal achievement, and “belief in yourself.”

As the positive psychology movement advanced in post-war America, the doctrine of sin was replaced with a doctrine of self-esteem. Today, fueled by social media, we tend to see work as the chance to make a mega impact or to build our LinkedIn profiles. Humility has become a lost virtue.

This view of work tends to have three economic consequences.

First, sustainable businesses (and economies) are built on trust and the ability to serve the long-term needs of their customers. Business practices fueled by short-term thinking and personal gain can damage entire economies, as we saw in the Great Recession of 2007-2008.

Second, healthy economies need a robust civil society to provide for core social needs apart from government aid. In The Great Degeneration, historian Niall Ferguson shows that numbers of volunteers have plummeted in the past generation, putting more pressure on governments to pay for socially beneficial programs.[ix]

Third, our aging American population is fast becoming an enormous economic liability. As Baby Boomers retire yet live longer–often for 20-30 years drawing on pension benefits–the economic stress on state and federally funded pension plans is fast reaching a tipping point.[x]

In each of these circumstances, when work is about personal benefit rather than contribution to the community, we see increasing stress put on the wobbly beams of our economic bridge.

Three Tasks for Christian Leaders

Considering these three trends–men without work, the splintered career, and the culture of the Big Me–what can Christian leaders do? I believe three things will help rebuild the structures of our shaky economic bridge.

  1. Recovery of Dignity (and the Doctrine of the Image of God) – The Bible teaches that all people are made in God’s image and have inherent dignity (Gen. 1:27-28). Moreover, meaningful work is a gift of God and a way we express our God-given value (Gen. 2:15; 1Pet. 2:10). In a culture of “men without work,” we must not only praise the work of men but also work to provide quality jobs that allow them to provide for their communities. This needs to be the basis for new educational and workforce development programs across the US.
  2. Recovery of Mutual Responsibility (and the Doctrine of the Church) – We need each other. Management and employees, customers and suppliers, products and producers: we depend on one another for our housing, our food, our laws, and our well-being. Calvinist reformers saw social organization in terms of the Body of Christ, where members depended on one another. Christian leaders must resist seeing employees as mere “human resources,” but seek ways to provide good jobs with meaningful work to men and women across industries. Projects like Zeynep Ton’s The Good Jobs Strategy show that profit and compassion (business success and investing in employees) are not contradictory but can be complementary.[xi]
  3. Recovery of the Doctrine of Vocation – “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give himself as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Work is about service, not our own career success or quarterly shareholder reports. Just after WWII, theologian Elton Trueblood said, “A Church which seeks to lift our sagging civilization will preach the principle of vocation in season and out of season. The message is that the world is one, secular and sacred, and that the chief way to serve the Lord is in our daily work.”[xii] Vocation is a summons to service–of God and neighbor. Here is the elixir to our economic woes, and the quiet strength still present in the American people.

 Photo credit: Union Workers.

 

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[i] Nicholas Eberstadt, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2016).

[ii] Derek Thompson, “The Missing Men,” The Atlantic, June 27, 2016, accessed at: http://theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/the-missing-men/488858/

[iii] Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America from 1960-2010 (New York: Crown, 2012).

[iv] Arthur Brooks, “How Donald Trump Filled the Dignity Deficit,” The Wall Street Journal, November 9, 2016, accessed at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-donald-trump-filled-the-dignity-deficit-1478734436

[v] Louis Hyman, “The Rise of the Precarious Economy,” The Hedgehog Review, 18, no. 1, (Spring 2016):18-32.

[vi] Josh Bersin, “The Future of Work: It’s Already Here – and Not As Scary As You Think,” Forbes, September 21, 2016, accessed at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2016/09/21/the-future-of-work-its-already-here-and-not-as-scary-as-you-think/print

[vii] Allison J. Pugh, The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[viii] David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015).

[ix] Niall Ferguson, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die (New York: Penguin, 2013).

[x] Tyler Durden, “’This is Going To Be A National Crisis,’ – One of the Largest US Pension Funds Set to Cut Retiree Benefits,” April 20, 2016, accessed at: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-04-20/going-be-national-crisis-one-largest-us-pension-funds-set-cut-retiree-benefits

[xi] Zeynep Ton, The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014).

[xii] Elton Trueblood, The Common Ventures of Life: Marriage, Birth, Work, Death (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949).

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BusinessEconomyWork

Am I an Imposter? The Weary Souls of Entreprenuers

 

Banks Benitez said it perfectly.

When I was interviewing Banks about his work as the VP of Global Expansion at the Unreasonable Institute, a start-up school for social entrepreneurs, one of his founders shared about what it feels like to be an entrepreneur: “It’s like I just joined the very front of the parade and people are cheering me on.”

He continued, “Today it seems like entrepreneurship is almost this embodiment of the American dream. You have this small idea and then you figure it out along the way and you grow and become really wealthy and successful – and you’ll also solve a global problem. Everybody wants you to become like Tesla, and the world is cheering you on…”

But on the inside, being an entrepreneur is fraught with emotional pain and difficulty. One of his founders said in a post-experience survey, “I don’t deserve to have this platform. People don’t really know who I am, and once they really find out who I am they’re going to be unimpressed.”

That’s it. Exactly.

I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work in 2012. As I look back, I think it was a combination of luck and lots of God’s grace. Board members joined, a handful of donors got behind the idea, and we started holding public events. It was odd at our first event to say, “We at Denver Institute…” What is Denver Institute? Just a fiction? We have only a couple thousand dollars in the bank, and yet I’m acting like this is somehow real?

As the organization grew, we began to hire a few staff, got a foundation to underwrite much of our work, and moved into our office. And it was a very odd feeling: in the period of 12 months I went from working in an old, decaying shopping mall at a small Christian school to getting connected to millionaires and city leaders. What just happened to me?

My public persona was growing – often despite myself – and yet tension followed me almost every single day. I would watch the bank account. “We have exactly 6 months until we’re out of money, and then we close the doors, I would think to myself.” Where am I going to get more money to keep this going? Donors, staff are depending on me…

I felt a strain on my relationship with my wife, and with my kids. My work had been consuming. Until one day, divinely, my six-year-old daughter even called me out for making my work an idol.  I felt an acute sense of shame.

And I got into this work because I’m driven by a conviction, that I could solve a key problem in the world. But now I’m leading a staff team, reading P&L statements, trying to manage sales with operations with finance, and I’m afraid to let me know know I don’t really know what I’m doing. I feel like a top that is spinning, and is soon to tip over.

​The contrast between my internal world and my external reputation was creating a chasm, often void of peace and hope… and of God.

Imposter. Once they found out who I really am…

A couple years in, I realized I wasn’t alone. One article in The Economist called it Founder’s blues. All of us founders are filled with energy and entrepreneurial fury. But underneath the fervor is a world of uncertainty. “In the morning you feel everything is on the right track and in the evening everything seems in the gutter,” said Shawn Zvinis, the co-founder of Tab, a London startup which eventually closed down.  The stress can sometimes even become grimmer. Tragically, some entrepreneurs buckle under the pressure and take their own lives. This happened to an entrepreneur in Denver just last year.

As I searched for answers, I was both glad to see the problem being acknowledged – but I found the answers coming from the secular world were painfully insufficient. Much of the counsel coming to entrepreneurs takes into account how to build a lean start-up or access venture capital, but little of the questions that were plaguing my soul. How long can I sustain this kind of life? What will I do if I fail? Where is God in this process (didn’t he call me to start this, anyway)? Who am I becoming? Good advice or tropes like “fail fast” weren’t enough.

Because these questions were gnawing away at my soul, this spring I decided to gather a group of friends and peers to talk about “Caring for the Soul of Entrepreneurs,” one of our breakout sessions at the June 15 event “For Whose Glory: Exploring Faithful Practice in Life, Leadership and Business.”

Of course, I invited Banks, my friend, a 5280 Fellow, and a key leader at the Unreasonable Institute. I also invited Reilly Flynn, Managing Partner at GAN Ventures and fellow follower of Christ. As a venture capitalist, Reilly works with entrepreneurs every day. And as he evaluates new deals, he also recognizes that entrepreneurs are people, with hopes and dreams and frailties and failures.

My Tuesday morning prayer partner, John Paasonen, CEO of tech start-up Maxwell, will also be there (assuming kid #2 doesn’t arrive on that day!). As a Duke MBA, former executive for American Express and PayPal, he came to the start-up world with a unique resume and amount of experience. Yet still, the tension of spending investment capital, hiring staff, and scrambling for new customers, even amidst having a killer product – well, he’s felt what we all do this space. Tension.

I also invited both Henry Kaestner, founder of Sovereign’s Capital, and his colleague, Russell Bjorkman, to join us. Sovereign’s is unique: not only do they work exclusively with Christian entrepreneurs, but their unique niche in this space is caring for the souls and emotional health of their entrepreneurs. Reilly has said that Henry is one of the most faithful thinkers/practitioners in the land on this topic.

Finally, my friend Drew Yancey, who is President of Yancey’s, a food service company, and doing a PhD in both theology and business right now, will be there facilitating the discussion. His research interest in the moral formation of entrepreneurs – yet his heart has also been deeply impacted by his own failures in the world of entrepreneurship.

The Front Range lacks a place for Christian entrepreneurs to come together both for business support and spiritual direction. As a nonprofit entrepreneur who has felt the tensions of both heart and hand, spirit and strategy, I hope this small gathering is the beginning of something bigger… for the sake of our city, and, quite selfishly, for my own life.

Photo credit: Exhaustion

BusinessEconomy

The Public Good of Faith Expressed Through Work

 

Three stories of Denver business leaders serving their neighbors by providing good jobs

It’s often assumed that faith is a private matter. Fine for your personal life, but less appropriate in the workplace or public life. Yet time and time again, I’ve seen that when faith becomes a public matter – and is expressed as working for the good of one’s neighbor – there are transformative results for the entire community.

Take for example Karla Nugent, chief business development officer at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting. Two years ago, my friend Bryan Chrisman at National Christian Foundation in Colorado connected us. “You gotta meet Karla,” he said. “She’s doing just what you’re talking about at Denver Institute for Faith & Work.” So we met for coffee, and after 45 minutes I was speechless.

Her company was blossoming and now had 350 employees. She had a deep, intrinsic belief in the dignity of the work of electricians that she employs, and had innovated an apprenticeship program that was employing men with barriers to employment – and turning them into certified journeymen in four years. The stories of life change were astounding.

Soon after I penned an article on her story for Christianity Today. After the article was published, through one of our board members, Chris Horst, the American Enterprise Institute heard about her story. They decided to feature her in a new documentary entitled “To Whom is Given: Business for the Common Good.”

We decided to take a clip of that documentary and tell her story (see clip above). Take a moment to watch her story.

When I watch Karla’s story, for me typical categories begin to break down. She is generous with her money, but she is also generous with her hiring practices. She runs a profitable, high performing business, but is also humble and community-focused. Her company provides the electrical work for skyscrapers across Denver, yet it also provides dignity to her employees and, for many, a way out of addiction or cyclical poverty. That is, her faith is a public good.

Take another example: Wes Gardner, CEO of Prime Trailer Leasing.

Work Matters from CityUnite on Vimeo.

Wes had a simple, yet profound, revelation: “I realized that business can be a platform for serving your neighbor.” He shares the story of the Good Samaritan. Two men passed by the one who had been robbed on the side of the road, but one saw him. The Good Samaritan too had something to do, but instead he stopped and helped.

“I began to see that the best thing we could do to help our neighbor was to create jobs,” Gardner says. “Not just jobs, but good jobs.” And so Wes began to hire people who were undergoing transition or challenges. For example, Benjamin Goff went from working at the state capitol to struggling with alcoholism. A good job in a healthy environment was a key to finding a new way forward.  Lauren Vasquez was a teen mom. She needed stable, good paying employment to support her daughter. Struggling to make it, she found the healthy environment she needed at Prime Trailer Leasing. The connection Gardner made with Hope House, a local nonprofit, changed her life.

One last example: James Ruder at L&R Pallet.

A Place of Refuge from CityUnite on Vimeo.

James inherited a pallet company from his father. He thought his business had plateaued after not being able to hire a workforce to make pallets. His turnover had reached 300% a year.

“God decided,” remembers Ruder, “to make my business a place of refuge.” Encouraged by his peers in a local group of Christian CEOs, Ruder decided to “give his business over to God” and allow God to work though him to serve the community.

Today, Ruder employees over 80 refugees from Burma – and his turnover has dropped to 5% a year, an unparalleled accomplishment in his industry. Ruder provides English classes to employees, connects his employees to community services, like how to navigate public transportation or finding an apartment, and treats many of them like family.

“When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m in the people business. Pallets are the widgets we make, but we changed our entire focus to our employees. And that has resulted in a completely different business model and profitability,” Ruder says.

Nugent, Gardner, and Ruder all are defying those who say compassion and profitability are a contradiction. Each business is profitable, and each does so by a unique investment in people.

The point here is simple: faith applied to work can have transformative impact on entire communities.

For me, this means three things:

  • We need to look harder at what “love your neighbor” truly means for our work and industries.
  • We need to ask whether the spiritual and moral formation of job creators might be one of the best, if not most overlooked ways, to alleviate poverty in our communities.
  • And we need to accept that faith is a genuine motivation for millions of working men and women across the country, and we do not need to be afraid to speak about faith-based motivations in public.

For many, faith is a public, social and economic good. And the most vulnerable in our communities are often the direct beneficiaries of sacrificial love expressed through work.

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Architecture and DesignBusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

Affordable Housing: What You Need to Know About the Most Critical Issue Facing Colorado Today

 

Imagine with me for a moment.

Imagine you and your new spouse have been outbid on four straight houses in two months. Instead of buying your first home in Denver, you finally decide to work remotely, move back to the Midwest to be closer to family, and leave Colorado.

Now imagine you’re a business owner at lunch with a real estate developer who is fighting off three simultaneous lawsuits from trial lawyers representing a homeowner’s association. He tells you, “I’ll never build condos again. Never.”

Finally, imagine you work construction and rent an apartment near Five Points. In the past eight years, your rent has increased from $900 per month to $1600. Exasperated by rising costs – and stagnant wages – you move to Frederick, 40 minutes from friends, family, and your job site. Dejected you grab a beer with a friend after work. Your friend tells you that back in 2006, his grandma gave him $5,000 for down payment on a $175,000 condo. Today, that condo is worth $265,000 – and your monthly rent is now more expensive than his mortgage.

Colorado is facing an economic and social tsunami centered on a single issue: affordable housing.  

There’s a unique mix of factors at play.

  • Colorado is experiencing a population boom. It’s the second fastest growing state in the union, and population growth has far outstripped available housing for Colorado’s new residents.
  • Cities are becoming more popular places to live. With more people desiring to move into cities, fix ‘n’ flips, remodels, and urban redevelopment has transformed the housing markets in the metro area.
  • Housing costs, particularly in cities, have skyrocketed . Home prices are now a staggering 49.1 percent above the high reached in 2006. To make things worse…
  • Colorado has a labor shortage in the trades and middle skilled jobs. Which means there aren’t nearly enough people to build more houses. Sadly…
  • The rise in housing costs has hit low-income communities the hardest. For example, from 2000-2014, in historically black and Latino Montebello, monthly rent rose 18% to a median cost of $1690. Mayor Hancock says an estimated 38 percent of Denver’s renters can’t afford the rising costs.

The upshot: The state needs far more entry-level housing built to keep up with demand, such as condos. Ten years ago the percentage of new residential construction builds that were condos was 25 percent. In 2015, it had plummeted to 3.4 percent. This means that getting a starter home (either condo or townhouse) has become nearly impossible.

So why not build more condos, even if you have to search harder for labor? The answer: there is one major reason why developers have not built more condos in the last decade: They’re getting sued like crazy. Here’s how it works:

  1. A condo owner has a cracked foundation or leaky window that could be fixed for anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
  2. A second owner has similar complaint, and the condo’s homeowner’s association turns to a law firm that specializes in “construction defects lawsuits” and the case turns into a class action lawsuit. What started as a complaint over relatively minor problems (that likely could be addressed by paying the right subcontractor to fix the problem) turns into a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, costing the developer enormously (yet handsomely profiting a small group of law firms).
  3. Because of this litigious habit, developers flee from condos, often unable to even get insurance on the development because of exorbitantly expensive lawsuits over construction defects. (One firm boasts 100+ “recoveries” in excess of $1 million.)

The result of all these factors: an affordable housing crisis.

Not all of these issues can be addressed at once. But now is the time to address one of these issues on a statewide level: our state’s “construction defects” law.

Local solutions have been proposed. Cities have passed a patchwork of policy Band-Aids, such as the City of Denver’s new tax which will provide an estimated $15 million per year for new affordable housing developments. But this amount is only a drop in the bucket for a city that needs an estimated 60,000 more affordable units right now. Many have also passed laws addressing construction defects lawsuits their own municipalities.

But what needs to be addressed is how to allow the market to build condos profitably once again throughout the state of Colorado. Apart from a statewide solution, condo builders are “gun shy” on applying for new builds, thinking that an unfavorable statewide bill would trump local efforts.

Today a hodgepodge of bills are being proposed in the state legislature after years of unsuccessful attempts to address the issue. One requires homeowner’s associations to undergo mediation that makes suing developers more difficult; another addresses the cost of insurance; yet another gives builders the ability to repair construction flaws before legal action can proceed.

Most Coloradoans won’t (and shouldn’t) get into the details of the bills. This is the job of our elected officials. But the Colorado public needs to remember three things:

  1. This issue is absolutely critical to the economic future of Colorado. Our economic growth is fundamentally dependent on attracting and keeping talented labor. If talented tech entrepreneurs or skilled craftsman can’t find affordable housing, they’ll leave the state and our growing economy will start to contract.
  1. At the heart, this is an issue of human flourishing. Wealth building for most low-income families begins with an affordable mortgage. To have a home means to have an asset – often times the only major asset they have – that can grow in value. To be stuck in the vortex of rising apartment costs yet stagnating wages fuels the cycle of poverty. Getting a starter home at a reasonable price is key to the well-being of our low and middle-income communities in Colorado.
  1. Now is the time make a change. In the next 3-4 weeks, bills will either get passed to address construction defects, or they’ll get shot down in committee, often influenced by organizations like the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, who have profited enormously from the status quo. Today, both Democrats and Republicans are aligning to say we can retain homeowner’s rights (including their ability to protect their most valuable asset and, in some cases, seek damages in court) yet hinder this rampant practice that is hurting our most vulnerable citizens – and eventually, all of us.

Does shoddy construction exist? Absolutely. We need to praise an ethic of craftsmanship among condo developers, and build quality condos that can last for 100 years (and won’t fall apart in 30 years). But we also need to recognize now is the time to solve one piece of the affordable housing puzzle.

What can you do?

The best thing you can do is contact your Colorado state Senator or Representative. They rarely hear from their constituents, so either an email or a phone call will likely be returned.

And instead of getting angry with them (they get a lot of that), tell them how much you care about this issue. Tell them you believe in giving developers the chance to repair their mistakes without costly trials; tell them to find ways for peaceful resolution of disputes between home owners, HOAs and developers; tell them you want to find ways to allow builders to once again build what our state needs the most: high-quality condos.

Tell them how excited you are for them to show political courage and bipartisan cooperation to solve this issue, and that you believe Colorado will benefit for generations to come when they pass the proper bills that address each side of this issue.

And if you can’t remember all of that, just tell them this: “I believe in a vision of a good city where men and women of all backgrounds can live in homes they own, provide for their families, and participate in the flourishing of their communities.”

Photo credit.  Want to print this out? Here’s the PDF

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BusinessEconomyWork

Investments for the Kingdom

Eventide Funds has confounded the investment world with its success—and it’s biblically based principles.

Not long ago, when reporters wrote about Robin John, the cofounder of Eventide Asset Management, a subtle snicker rumbled under the surface. One called him “The Believer”; others pointed out the odd language on his Boston-based mutual fund company’s website: business as an “engine of blessing” and “biblically responsible investing.”

Theology as the foundation for picking stocks? Is this guy for real?

Today the murmurs seem to have faded, and for good reason. Since its launch in 2008, Eventide’s flagship mutual fund (a pool of money professionally invested in stocks, bonds, and other securities), the Gilead Fund, has given shareholders a 13.70 percent annualized return as of September 30, 2016, compared to 9.03 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500. To put that into perspective, an investor who put $10,000 into the fund at its launch would be worth $26,050 today. The Gilead Fund has been covered as a top performer by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, among other publications. Over the past three years, media attention has helped Eventide explode from $50 million in assets under management to nearly $2 billion.

But there’s more to Robin John than a focus on profit. Challenging Milton Friedman’s declaration that the only social responsibility of business is to increase profits, John says, “Profit is only the byproduct of a job well done.”

John, an evangelical living in Dallas, is a leader in the growing field of biblically responsible investing, which applies Christian theology and social concern to investment analysis. Eventide, founded in 2008, has garnered attention because of both its results and its uniquely faith-filled investment philosophy, driven ultimately by Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself.

His journey to investing, however, was fraught with vocational doubt, uncertainty, and a heart-wrenching journey to India, the land of his birth.

Longing for a Calling

John grew up in a village in southern India, influenced by the faith of his grandparents. “I remember looking out my window as a child and seeing a cemetery,” John told me. “The church needed land to bury the dead, and so my grandfather, poor as he was, donated it.” John learned the Bible originally in his native tongue of Malayalam and saw a sacrificial faith lived out at an early age.

When John was seven, his family moved to Medford, Massachusetts, following his uncle, an international pastor at Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston. “We moved into a community where I was one of the only non-Italian and non-Irish students in class,” John says. Due to an error on his Social Security card, his last name became an abbreviated version of his middle name, Cheriakalath, while he was in school. It was nearly impossible for his Anglo peers to pronounce, just one factor that made growing up an Indian immigrant in American schools tough. So he studied hard and graduated in the top 1 percent of his high school class.

A few years later, John graduated with a degree in economics from Tufts University and took a job at a large bank. “I would pray for a calling to go into ministry,” John recalls. “But I didn’t hear from God. So, because I didn’t feel like I had a calling, I said, ‘I guess I’ll just make money and support those who do.’ ”

One of his first assignments took him from Boston back to Pune, India, near Bombay, to train new employees.

One day, staying in the guest house of an Indian firm, he asked the housekeepers where they slept. He discovered that in a four-bedroom house, they slept in a closet behind the kitchen on the concrete floor, with no mat or rags for a pillow. Outraged, he notified his company of the housekeepers’ living conditions. But the two men begged him not to pursue the matter or they would lose their jobs—and return to the slums.

When John returned to the United States, the air of his home office was heavy with tension. Outsourcing to India meant job cuts for American workers. Now coworkers in Boston came to John with their own plea: “If my job is going to India, you’ve got to let me know. I’ve got a family.”

“I started realizing that work is not just work,” John says. “People’s lives are being impacted.”

In the years that followed, he vocationally wandered from a bank to an accounting firm to part-time classes at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he still longed for “a call to ministry.”

While in Boston, John got in touch with a friend from high school, Finny Kuruvilla. At the time, Kuruvilla was simultaneously pursuing an MD from Harvard Medical School, a PhD in chemistry and chemical biology from Harvard University, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. (“And just for fun, Finny taught biblical Greek and Hebrew at his church.”)

John asked Kuruvilla to pray with him, hoping for a sense of God’s call. They prayed once a week for six months. “If God wants me to go into full-time ministry, that’s what I’ll do,” John said, uncertain about working in ministry or business. Together they started a house church and were joined by a Nigerian widow, Congolese immigrants, and a few Harvard students eager to serve their community.

Soon after, Tim Weinhold, an entrepreneur and Harvard alumnus, visited the house church. Getting acquainted after the service, Kuruvilla mentioned that he and some friends were thinking of starting a Christian mutual fund.

“I know what a mutual fund is,” said a skeptical Weinhold, who would eventually become director of faith and business for Eventide. “And I know what a Christian is. Explain to me what a Christian mutual fund is.”

After prayer and discussion, John and Kuruvilla cofounded Eventide Asset Management with the vision of “Investing that makes the world rejoice.”

As the Great Recession began, the sun was setting on John’s longing for a call to ministry. In response to John’s question of whether to go into business or ministry, God slowly revealed his clear answer: “Both.”

From Plunder to Blessing

“I’m confused,” I confess on stage, as I interview John before an eager crowd at The Commons at Champa, a shared workspace in Denver. “What’s the difference between socially responsible investing, values-based investing, and biblically responsible investing?”

In the audience is a young couple, eagerly listening for advice on how to begin their meager retirement savings; a pastor turned investment adviser, fearing he’s failed now that he’s no longer a minister; and a bleary-eyed investment banker, tie-loosened and over-tired, wondering if he’s made a vocational mistake.

eventide-team-ctConventional fund managers look for financial strengths in making investment decisions, John says. The problem is that profitability is a lagging indicator. It tells investors more about the past than the future. Moreover, it doesn’t show how a business made that money, whether through quality products or oppressive business practices.

Conversely, moral or ethical fund managers screen out the “vice stocks”—pornography, tobacco, weapons, or abortion—and then look for financial strengths. “This is the typical approach of what we might label biblically responsible investing 1.0. It’s a good start,” John says, “but it doesn’t go far enough, because business can harm not just through bad products but through bad practices.” For example, payday loan companies can trap the poor in a cycle of debt, and auto title loans can charge effective rates as high as 500 percent.

The biblical word for these business practices is plunder, says John, who cites biblical passages that emphasize God’s concern for the poor: “ ‘Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord. ‘I will protect them from those who malign them’ ” (Ps. 12:5).

But instead of merely avoiding companies that plunder or extract value from a community, John says, “we look for companies with an extraordinary ability to innovate and create value for all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, host communities, the natural environment, and society.” Each of these six stakeholders, Eventide believes, is a primary neighbor that businesses are called to serve. John dubs this positive vision “biblically responsible investing 2.0.”

The Eventide philosophy, or Eventide Business 360, is rooted in the biblical understanding that God’s intent for business, investing, and all vocations is to serve and, in turn, bless humankind. Weinhold, Eventide’s director of faith and business, points to verses like Deuteronomy 8:18—“But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today”—to show that business is uniquely able to create wealth and provide for material needs.

Business does this, according to Weinhold, by creating products that solve the material challenges of human existence and by making a profit, thereby enlarging human wealth to make those products affordable and accessible.

When deciding what businesses to invest in, Eventide considers factors often outside of typical investment analysis such as employee satisfaction, a genuine innovation in the field of investing. They use websites with company reviews shared by employees, as well as other sources, to evaluate both how well a business is “loving” its employees and also its long-term prospects for profitability.

In the days before the Great Recession, John says, “we saw the subprime mortgage industry was exploiting its customers. We didn’t invest there.” Avoiding dishonest practices, John says, is one discipline that can help the firm sidestep the kinds of activities that may be profitable—at least for a time—but do long-term harm.

Like the vast majority of mutual fund investors, most of Eventide’s 133,000 clients are average people saving for retirement. The minimum investment in the Gilead Fund is only $1,000 (or, with an automatic investment plan, $100). “We wanted anybody to be able to invest with us,” says John.

Eventide has performed well for their shareholders, but investing is risky business and can suffer downturns. Even in down markets, though, John reminds his team of their true purpose. Gilead, the name he and Kuruvilla gave their first fund, means “mountain of witness” or “hill of testimony.”

John remembers praying for a calling in 2008, descending into his unfinished basement to “ask God to use me for his glory.” In 2015, Eventide gave away more than $3.5 million to charity, directed almost $2 billion toward businesses they believe improve people’s lives, and influenced business leaders and financial advisors across the United States in how they think about the purpose of their work.

John found his calling in an unlikely place. An investor and entrepreneur, John has embraced a higher view of business, often quoted by Weinhold: “Business is God’s intended partner in his great work as Provider for all of humankind.”

This article first appeared in the December 2016 issue of Christianity Today.

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BusinessEconomyWork

We All Proselytize

 

“Kelly, what does proselytize mean?”

“Evangelize, but with negative connotations.”

I had to ask my wife last Sunday night because the word came up in a discussion with a local Christian entrepreneur.

I’ll paraphrase what he said: “In my company, we believe in the power of entrepreneurship to create flourishing communities. And I’m very open about my Christian faith with my employees when it comes up. But I would never engage in proselytization.”

When he said it, I mostly agreed. The word just sounds like rude, arm-twisting – or possibly even an illegal activity. Encroaching on other people’s faith makes many of us feel uncomfortable at worst, and often offended. It’s usually a good way to seriously tick off your co-workers.

But what does “proselytize” even mean? I looked it up in the dictionary and here’s what I got: “pros·e·lyt·ize ˈpräs(ə)ləˌtīz/verb: convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.”

Well, that’s interesting. This word simply means trying to change somebody’s beliefs or opinions from one view to another.

When I read this, I had to ask myself: aren’t all of us constantly trying to convert someone from one set of beliefs to another? I mean, if we’re honest, isn’t this what is constantly happening in advertising, media, and even conversations with friends?

For example, Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary Before the Flood is clearly trying to influence people to care deeply about climate change. And he’s not apologizing for that. He believes deeply in the catastrophic consequences of inaction for our planet. And he wants the apathetic or the climate change skeptic to be converted from one belief to another.

Or take actress and activist Emma Watson. She recently went to a train station in England and gave away over 100 copies of Maya Angelou’s “Mom & Me & Mom.” As a “book fairy” for the day, she also included a short note in the book, encouraging readers to pass it on. Her motivation was to get as many people as possible to be reading about inequality. Her campaigns for the UN have advocated for feminism, the protecting of young girls against child marriage, and fighting a rape culture. A noble woman, to be sure. And she’s not apologizing either that she’s attempting to convert you to her views.

Even thinking more broadly than Hollywood stars, isn’t the act of proselytization simply a natural, human act? When you receive an email from Costco, aren’t they trying to convince us to buy their products? Weren’t hundreds of millions of dollars spent on political advertising trying to “convert us” to vote for a particular candidate? Doesn’t my daughter try to change my beliefs when she asks for a cookie before bed?

I’m shooting beyond my pay grade here, but it seems to me that a primary use of all human language is to influence people to adopt your beliefs. Some philosophers have even postulated that in all human relationships we attempt to exert power or influence on others. To Daniel Pink’s point, to sell is human.

But can we at least admit that we’re all trying to convert others to our beliefs? Even those who say it’s wrong to convert others to your beliefs, ironically, are trying to convert you to that belief!

But back to the specific topic at hand: sharing about your Christian beliefs in the workplace. A few things to note for my fellow Christians:

  • We should never try to coerce others. People in positions of leadership need to be careful about sharing their faith with employees simply because it can be construed as “to be accepted around here, you need to be a Christian.” That’s no good. Belief should never be a pre-condition to acceptance. The truth is, God doesn’t coerce us, but is patient with us and allows for us to respond freely to him. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” If God gives us free will and time to respond, should we not do the same for others?
  • Let’s not be angry when faith comes up. I’ve seen many Christians get ticked off at the topic of faith in the workplace. They cite their first amendment rights to freedom of religion — while about to bust a vein in their necks. Again, no need for this to become a political fight. If it does, it shows that the real issue at stake is a political issue – not theological.
  • Gentleness and respect should adorn our faith conversations with co-workers. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” says Peter. I’m afraid to say that this has not always been the case for people of Christian faith in the public arena (I’m practicing the art of understatement). Instead humility, openness, and respect – along with a robust adherence to the truth we profess – ought to shape our interactions with those of other faiths.

To be honest, I’ve never liked the word proselytization. I won’t be using it anytime soon. But it is worth admitting that all people proselytize. Including Christians.

“Evangelize,” is a much better word. The word comes from the Greek euaggellion, meaning simply “good news.” The word is equally noxious in our secular culture, but it shouldn’t be. Why not? Let me tell a brief story:

For the past two weeks, as I have been driving to work, I’ve listened to the Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know?” After the tears welled up in my eyes for a week straight, I decided to commit the lyrics to memory so I could sing it to my daughters before they go to bed.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm the storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the Lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s Perfect Lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the Great I Am.

This is the message I have believed. And this is the one I unashamedly share – with kids, family, co-workers, neighbors, and anybody else who will listen. And when I share my own most-precious good news with the world, I join the rest of the world world that engages in sharing their stories of good news as well…

Last night, I finished singing it to Sierra, my oldest daughter, before we fell asleep. As we both looked at the Christmas tree night light, she said to me with a little grin as I finished the song, “I like that song, daddy.”

“I do too, my love.”

As we prayed together, I thanked God for that person who first “proselytized” me.

This post first appeared at denverinstitute.org

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BusinessEconomyWork

Nourishing the World: Spending an Evening with Dan Dye, CEO of Ardent Mills

 

As we walked into the kitchen, our senses came alive: the smell of freshly baked bread, the shine of stainless steel appliances, the smile of Chef Daniel Marciani, and the sight of risotto, chocolate quinoa desserts and caramelized spread. We felt like we had just walked into Babette’s Feast.

The food was the unexpected capstone of an evening the 5280 Fellows spent with Dan Dye, CEO of Ardent Mills, the largest flour producer in the country.  Ardent Mills, a new company that was spun off from ConAgra, CHS, and Cargill just over two and a half years ago, has 42 production facilities in the US, over 2,000 employees, and – get this – serves an estimated 100 million per day with their products. Chances are, if you ate any kind of bread product today, you are being nourished by Ardent Mills.

As we gathered around the conference room to hear Dan’s story, he candidly shared about life as the leader of a $4-billion-year company: the advent of his career at Cargill, the transition to leadership over a team of commodities traders in Winnipeg, and the values he uses as guideposts for everything he does.

Values, he said, are at the core of his leadership. Trust. Serving. Simplicity. Safety. For Dye, they’re more than words: they form the heart of the company he leads – and while not explicitly or exclusively Christian, each of them are endowed with deep spiritual value. “Though I don’t always say to people, ‘These are biblical values,’ to me each value is Biblically rooted, and the Bible informs me on how to lead a company, and how I can help best serve both customers and employees,” said Dye.

Dye spoke about discerning his calling and new job opportunities alongside his wife, Alea; how to build a strong leadership team; the challenges of work-life choices as he took different roles throughout his career. He shared about being a strong emotional presence in times of crisis, especially during a time early in his career when, tragically, two employees died during an accident. “It was the hardest time of my career – and one of the hardest times of my life. The value of safety isn’t just a word on the wall – I believe in it with every fiber of my being.”

Developing a strong, values-based culture is central to Dye’s leadership. He believes values allow them to better serve their customers, but they also create a work-environment that blesses his employees. The five principles of leadership at Ardent Mills are:

  • Live Our Values: Trust, Serving, Simplicity, Serving
  • Others Focused vs. Self-Focused
  • Clear the Noise
  • Relentlessly Curious
  • We Will Win – The Right Way

The final value used to be just “We Will Win,” believing that profit is inherently good as it creates the opportunity to serve more customers and hire more employees. But he added “The Right Way” after observing the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015, in which the German automaker intentionally mislead environmental authorities to pass emissions standards. To Dye, doing business “the right way” means profit must be made ethically, upholding the highest standards of integrity.

Banks Benitez, 5280 Fellow and Vice President of Global Expansion at the Unreasonable Institute, shared a brief note with me after the Community & Culture gathering:

“I just wanted to drop you a brief note thanking you for tonight. It broadened my perspective, humanized a big industry that I know nothing about, connected us to a leader who is putting Christ in that center circle, and sparked many ideas for me in my own career and role. One thing that Dan mentioned, which I really liked, was about getting rid of the noise and bringing clarity to people. I know that’s something I struggle with in my role with our team…It was such an amazing night and I kept thinking, “this is way beyond what I expected from the fellowship.”

Dye also shared about the centrality of his faith to his work. “I remember when I was a kid, my dad would take me aside before a basketball game, and give me some clear advice: keep your cool, do your best, honor God. I’ve always kept that advice close to my heart.” Through both his father and early career mentors at Cargill, who encouraged him to keep Christ at the center of his life, role models profoundly impacted Dye’s career trajectory.

The Ardent Mills vision of “Nourishing What’s Next” has special meaning for Dye. Bread is a central metaphor in the Scriptures: Jesus is the bread of life; the kingdom of God is like yeast that works its way through dough; Jesus commands his followers to remember his death through drinking of wine and eating bread.

As Dan Dye leads a company that is nourishing the world – quite literally – he also strives to nourish the spirits of the customers, employees and communities Ardent Mills serves each day.

This article first appeared on the Theology of Business Blog at denverinstitute.org

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