It’s Saturday morning in Bombay (Mumbai). A dozen people are huddled in a home to study about God and to pray. They’re praying for their community, for God to move in a powerful way, and for their own witness to those with whom they’re all in daily contact. But these folks are not neighbors or members of the same church, and they’re not praying for those who live around them. In fact, some have traveled quite a distance to participate in this group. No, they’re meeting to pray for their company, ET. They’re praying that Christians at ET would be salt and light to those around them in the marketplace, to employees, colleagues, partners and customers.
ET is a call center business in India with approximately one thousand employees—smart, college-educated professionals. It has grown at an astounding rate during the five years since its founding. The company’s customers include major credit card issuers in the United States, and it has been recognized for its world-class level of service. On the surface, this might appear to be a typical, successful Indian company, but it’s not. At ET, 60 percent of the employees call themselves Christians. How did that come about in a nation in which only two percent of the population identifies with the Christian faith? In short, it was the Spirit of God giving a vision for using business to further the gospel of Jesus.
I have had the privilege of participating in the ET business venture as a strategic advisor from its inception, both as a board member and as an investor. For years, my career consisted of starting and running companies, but I wasn’t looking for another one, and I certainly wasn’t looking for one in India! This opportunity found me. God’s hand seemed to be in it. He showed me how my business skills could be used in a developing nation to meet economic and spiritual needs. Christians can face significant challenges to employment in India; God showed how they could be provided meaningful jobs with which to support their families and their local churches. They would have a venue for modeling biblical principles in the marketplace, for infusing the local business climate with the fragrance of Jesus, and for drawing people to Him.
Many others are also advancing the Church around the world through business. They are part of a massive sea change in the way the Church does missions. Christian business people are involved in a comprehensive ministry that creates jobs and profitable businesses, and strengthens the local church, enabling people to decide to follow Jesus. They’re engaged in “Kingdom business.”
Kingdom business is achieving economic and spiritual transformation around the globe and is welcomed even by developing nations that are traditionally closed to the gospel. Some have been called to help microentrepreneurs like Bintou, a widow in Mali, who sells goods out of her small shop. Others are assisting small- and medium-size enterprises and their owners, like David Berlancic who manages a stone-crushing quarry in Croatia. I discovered that my story is just one of many from Christian business people who have been called to use their gifts in the worldwide missions effort, and each of them has a unique story of God’s preparation and direction regarding Kingdom business opportunities.
My story began on a noisy night in New York City thirty years ago. New York is the city that never sleeps—and neither could I. That day, my boss had called me into his office and, in a short conversation, had changed my life. No, it wasn’t in the way you might have expected. In thirty minutes, I went from assisting him as an analyst to becoming manager of marketing services. I went from being an individual contributor to the head of a 350-person division with five managers reporting directly to me! I was floored.
As I lay in bed, I assessed the situation. Upon graduation from Stanford Business School, I had been ready to take on the world, armed with what I had learned. I felt as though I had come out of that institution like a proton comes out of a cyclotron, ready to blast through the business world with my understanding of the latest business tools. However, I found that the tools, while highly effective, did not help me explain or solve a number of tough issues.
Now I was a 27-year-old Stanford MBA, rapidly climbing the ladder at a major New York company. But where would it take me? What would I be in 30 years? I tried to chart my future career trajectory. At the end of all the perturbations and iterations, it all seemed somehow empty and purposeless. Mentally exhausted, a strange and frightening thought entered my mind: Is that all there is? What if I woke up at age 60 and realized that I had missed it? And I didn’t even have a notion of what it was! But I knew that if I missed it now, only to discover it at age 60, I would never be able to recover those lost years. It was a scary thought; I never told anyone. But it nagged me for years and started me on a search for an answer. As I lay in bed, it never dawned on me that it was God.
A few years later I was married, had a son, and was living in California. My wife, Roberta, and I thought we owed our son the same opportunity to consider religion as we had been given, so he could come to his own decision about faith. A plan was hatched. Our first stop would be the local church I had attended as a child. Next would be the Catholic church where Roberta was raised, then the local Buddhist temple, the synagogue, and so on.
We never made it past the first church. As we went Sunday after Sunday, I began to wrestle with God. I knew I was hearing spiritual truth. I began to think seriously about the Lord, and I knew He wanted to enter into a relationship with me. My wrestling with God was not about following Jesus, it was about what I would do if I did take that step. By way of the Sunday sermons, I had come to the conclusion that any serious Christian could only serve God as a pastor; a true follower of Jesus would lay down his career and go into preaching.
I wanted to be a Christian, but I also wanted to be a businessman. My education, training, abilities and passion were in business. Could I really give those up to follow God? In the church parking lot after one Sunday morning service, I struggled with God over that choice. The Lord pointed me to Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” My desires were for business, so I asked God to change my heart. That morning I decided to follow God, even if it meant I needed to become a pastor in a poor section of town.
Sadly, I later discovered that even mature Christians often succumb to this line of thinking, concluding that they must change careers in order to serve God. They fail to see the opportunity for spiritual value of their work in the marketplace. The businessperson’s ministry is to serve others through useful goods and helpful services and to infuse each personal interaction with the fragrance of Christ. That is his high calling from God, and it was my calling.
God was giving me the desire of my heart. It would take years for me to fully understand the important concept that business was my ministry, but God started to teach me slowly. One Sunday, our pastor spoke on the topic of “weekend warriors.” Was I one of those people who prayed and worshiped on Sunday and left all of that at home as I entered a different and unrelated world on Monday? After recognizing I fit the description of those “weekend warriors,” I realized that my faith needed to impact my work. I needed to do my business by the Book. I needed to evaluate my actions in light of the biblical standards of integrity, morality and love.
So for many years, I faithfully took the Lord with me on my quest to serve Him in the business world. I used the Bible to carefully consider the morality of my actions. I wanted to please the Lord, and I could see the value of operating aboveboard. This was the first step of making my work my ministry, one I am sure many of you can identify with.
Eventually, the Lord showed me that He wanted to be more than a moral standard or an example of loving concern for others in my business practice. He began to reveal that He wanted to partner with me in all that I was doing. Early on, I had seen God as the One who put me here and cared for me. I had seen Him as uniquely and significantly interested in the process of how I did my business. But ultimately, I thought He was uninterested in the outcome of my business, since that was not “spiritual.” I didn’t realize that this view sells God short. He is as interested in the outcome as He is in how we approach an issue.
Recently, a friend told me that when he prays, he asks only for strength and courage to do what is right in his business. That is fine as far as it goes, but God has and wants to give more. These prayers fall short of the potential in the relationship we have with God. I told him his prayer was fine but that it left God out of partnering with him in his business. He said, “I get it; I am only getting half of the equation. The other half in my business is God.” I noted that his was a good analogy, except it is more like firing on one cylinder when we have available to us seven more.
Another friend expressed another common view of businessmen in the Church. “I never pray for specific outcomes,” he said. “It is not right to bother God with these issues. I just pray that God’s will be done in the situation.” That is fine too, as far as it goes. But it fails to recognize that God wants to lead us and provide for us in every aspect of our lives as we follow His plans for us. We acknowledge that He could bring about specific outcomes, because we see Him do the miraculous when the doctors can’t. However, since He does not always answer that type of prayer in the affirmative, we reckon it is better not to ask. Yet He is in the business of doing miracles to make up for where we fall short. King David spent a week on his face before God, asking Him to spare his child. God did not, but that never stopped David from asking.
The point here is that if we don’t ask God specifically for answers to prayers, we cannot know when He has answered us specifically. That includes prayers for God to partner with us and affect miraculous business outcomes. In my case, He had wanted to help, but I had not been in the asking mode. The realization that God desired to partner with me—that He cared about business outcomes and wanted me to ask Him for specific results—deepened the sense of business as my ministry.
In the course of writing this book, God has taken me into a new area of awareness. I have understood for many years that God is interested in business and have noticed the correlation of biblical concepts with business realities. But only recently have I fully appreciated the depth to which the Bible is the foundation of all meaningful business concepts. Honesty, service, excellence, respect, commitment, value, trust, loyalty and quality are not only successful business practices, but are also biblical principles. They were biblical principles first. The credit is rarely given to Scripture, because so few recognize the genesis of the concepts. Thus, many of us have been taught the business principles without any reference to their biblical origin. I have come to appreciate that good business practices don’t conflict with the Bible—they are the Bible.
When successful business people who operate on biblical principles are the subject of articles and book chapters, the writer is often incredulous that the individual succeeded despite the “albatross” of following God’s laws. How could he or she possibly profit without cutting corners, engaging in dishonesty, and treating employees dispassionately? I believe these individuals are not successful despite following biblical principles; they are successful because they follow biblical principles.
All meaningful business concepts have a biblical foundation. For example, nations of economic greatness display a very high level of trust in their moral, cultural and economic systems. Of course, trust is fundamental to our relationship with God, who is trustworthy. The rule of law, so fundamental to strong economies and stable societies, is also basic to the Bible. We are under a higher authority, and God’s laws are immutable. Stability in government is fundamental to successful business. The biblical mandate to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is basic to the concept of good service. Ethics and morality are defined by a strong set of fundamental beliefs to which all adhere. And the Lord is the glue that holds it all together.
Because biblical principles lead to successful business, the marketplace affords us the opportunity to present God’s truth in a uniquely relevant way. We just need to connect the dots between business and the Bible. In the process of teaching and demonstrating successful business practices, we can present the gospel by word and by deed. This opportunity to share the gospel through business exists at home and abroad, and it is what has prompted many missions-minded Christians to pursue Kingdom business.
Before God had revealed any of these insights about how business was my ministry, He opened the door for me in business. I joined a small firm and went to work. I had committed to following God wherever that would lead me—even as a pastor in a poor area. But like Abraham, who was asked by God to offer his precious son as a sacrifice before the Lord provided another way, I was not required to carry out the sacrifice. He was more concerned with my demonstration of willingness. He was concerned with my heart, and the desire He gave me was to be a businessman.
I knew business opportunities were out there, but I struggled to see them at first. I felt like a hunter who could hear ducks all around him but couldn’t identify a single one. So I asked God to open my eyes, to remove the veil. He did, and soon I saw business opportunities flash before me like ducks in a shooting gallery. I felt God’s urge to start a business, so I conferred with a friend who said he had about a dozen ideas. We went through them one by one. At one point, I sensed God directing me toward a particular business concept. “Let’s go back and discuss that one,” I said.
We gave that idea a three-month review, developing a business plan and performing due diligence. It was the early 1970s, the era of minicomputers. Personal computers were still several years from entering the market, and only companies owned computers. The initial business concept focused on solving a problem faced by a significant number of those companies. Computer-support manufacturers focused heavily on large corporations and were set up to serve them. Orders for computer paper and other supplies were accepted only in bulk, and they took weeks to deliver. Their salespeople could not adequately serve the smaller companies or organizations that did not need a pallet of paper or a large box of printer ribbons, and it was not economically viable for computer accessory manufacturers to seek out and fulfill smaller orders. We believed there was an opportunity to provide cost-effective service to those customers whose average purchases totaled about $150. After considering several potential solutions, we finally decided that a mail-order catalog would be the best approach. While mail-order businesses of many different kinds have sprung up since then, it was actually quite a revolutionary concept at the time.
To properly serve customers, we needed to help them connect their minicomputers to peripherals such as printers. In those days, universal standards were far less common, and each manufacturer developed a unique design. Therefore, connecting products from the main minicomputer makers and the myriad of peripheral suppliers was a major problem. Unique connection design locked the customers of computer manufacturers into buying the manufacturer’s peripheral products, often at a much higher price.
I discussed the business idea with a number of people, among them the president of Hewlett-Packard. He had been my father’s protégé when my father was the number three person at Hewlett-Packard, behind Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, the two founders. “That whole cable problem is a can of worms,” Hewlett-Packard’s president said, not optimistic that it could be solved. I took his comments as a challenge. My brilliant partner spent days studying manuals, coming up with ways to connect computers with peripherals manufactured by different companies. We were satisfied that we could offer helpful products by mail order that would serve a neglected segment of minicomputer owners and save companies hours developing their own solutions. With $5,000 of capital and a grocery bag full of connector parts, we founded Inmac.
What is God’s definition of success? He defines success differently than our culture does. As He demonstrated in sending His Son to reconcile man to Himself, He is focused on relationships. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33a). In God’s economy, success means that my relationship with Him is good and growing. But, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family,” God says, “he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Therefore, in God’s economy, success means that first I must have a relationship with God, and then second I must have a quality relationship with my wife and my children. Finally, if my company is prosperous, that’s a bonus.
When I started Inmac, I had to decide what my personal involvement in the company would be. Because God was teaching me that He should be first, my wife and kids second, and the business third, I felt He wanted me to act out those priorities on a daily basis, not just pay lip service to them. As businesspeople are wont to do, I developed a plan. I counted the number of waking hours in the week and started with time devoted to God. How many hours a week would be needed to ensure that I was growing in knowledge of and intimacy with God? I repeated the exercise in order to set aside adequate time for my wife and kids. What remained in the week for work? Forty hours. That personal time commitment to the business would have to be sufficient, I concluded. Those forty hours would be intense, but God would be able to make it work.
That commitment was immediately put to the test when I met with venture capitalists, prospective investors in our fledgling company. Those who fund start-ups expect the entrepreneurs to make a significant personal time commitment to the business. Venture capitalists want assurance that the founders will pour their lives into the venture, and they typically expect at least sixty or seventy hours a week, or more, from them. I knew what they expected and had to be honest with them upfront. As might be expected, my proposed forty-hour workweek did not go over particularly well. Venture capitalists would not invest in such a business, so we had to raise $50,000 from friends and family. But as a result of bootstrapping the start-up venture, we maintained a greater equity interest in the company. (In fact, Inmac never had more than $500,000 in paid-in-capital until the day it went public, and most of that came from the purchase of employee stock options.) Over the years I found that God repeatedly honored the commitment to prioritize Him and my family above the business.
Inmac was young and struggling, and I started to wonder whether this was indeed God’s call for me. Everything we owned was in the business, including personal loan guarantees. I sensed His call to this business, but perhaps I was wrong. Did He want me to pursue some other venture or even become a pastor after all? Like Gideon, my wife, Roberta, and I agreed to set out a fleece before God. I needed a sign that was way out of the ordinary and unmistakably from Him. Sales were drifting downward from $2,300 to $2,200 to $2,100 per day. I was worried.
“You seem to be focused on the sales per day number,” Roberta said. “What would be a sign that God is confirming your call to this business?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“Well, how about we take God’s perfect number seven. Let’s trust God for a $7,000 sales day,” she suggested. “And just so you don’t think it’s a chance event, we’re going to pray for three $7,000 days!” I did not want to be unspiritual, especially in front of my wife, so I agreed. But now I was really worried! How could God ever do anything like that?
We decided to pray about it for ten days. For five days, I was completely terrified about what might happen. But we continued on our knees every day. In the next couple of days, God gave me confidence that even if His answer was no, it would mean He had something better in store for us. On the eighth and ninth days of prayer, I had an increased sense that God was going to touch our fleece. And by the tenth day, a Sunday, Roberta and I both believed God would bless us with $7,000 in sales the following day.
On Monday morning, I announced to Nancy, our customer representative, that we were going to have $7,000 in orders that day. None of the employees knew about our prayer period, and during those ten days, sales had been trending further downward . . . $1,900 . . . $1,800. Nancy looked at me with extreme skepticism. Frankly, she probably doubted my sanity. I suspect other employees started preparing their résumés once word spread that the boss had gone mad. When the day started to look promising, Nancy came into my office to let me off the hook. She announced gleefully that we could possibly reach $5,000 in orders. “No,” I said, “it’s going to be $7,000.” To her amazement, at the end of the day her final tally read just over $7,000. None of my employees at the time were walking with the Lord, and that certainly made an impression on them—not to mention on me!
The following Monday yielded the same result. And so did the next one. Then sales dropped right back down to their previous level, around $2,000 per day. But that didn’t concern me, because God had demonstrated clearly that He cared about the venture, that He had His hand in it, and that He wanted me there. Since I knew I was where God wanted me, I also knew that I could trust Him to let me know when the time came for me to move on from Inmac; I promised I would be ready. But years later, I would still be able to point to three monuments to God on the sales graph.
Later I discovered a verse that spoke to my calling: “Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (1 Cor. 7:20). He had affirmed my calling to that business.
The spiritual value of business is in serving one’s fellow man. At Inmac, we did this by offering useful products and striving for superior service. Not only was serving others a biblical principle, but it also proved to be a competitive advantage. When we started selling computer products by direct mail, several large technology companies, including Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and Hewlett-Packard (HP), were looming. Would they immediately crush our fledgling business?
We were proud of our first catalog, and I sent a copy to HP’s president with a note thanking him for his help. My partner happened to be in the president’s office the day the catalog arrived, and he witnessed the reaction. The HP president took a look at the catalog and in one easy motion threw it in front of his division head. “If Eldred, a one-man operation, can build a catalog to care for our customers and the rest of the industry,” he lambasted the executive, “why can’t your entire division provide equally good support with a catalog of your own?”
Meanwhile, DEC had announced its own catalog of products similar to ours. Since together they represented two-thirds of the market, I was certain that we would have no future if HP and DEC both took care of their customers as we were intending to do. But I also knew that if we had two years before facing any real competition from these economic giants we would be well-enough established to survive. My wife suggested we pray to that effect, and right there we did.
When the DEC advertisement for its new catalog came out, I felt sick. I was fretting over it when my partner suggested that I call the toll-free number and ask to be sent a copy. I feared seeing it and hesitated to make the call. Finally, I got up the courage and dialed the number. As it turned out, the call was very revealing! The phone rang half a dozen times. I was starting to feel better. Our policy was to answer no later than the third ring, and we later changed the policy to answer on the first ring. Finally someone on the other end answered, “Hello?” My confidence was improving by the second. I asked for a copy of the catalog in the advertisement, and to my amazement she responded, “What catalog is that?” At first I thought I had the wrong number, but before I could apologize for misdialing, she said, “Just a minute. . . .” and without putting me on hold, she yelled to someone near her. “Hey, Mabel! Do you know anything about a DEC catalog?”
“Take his name and address,” Mabel replied. “When it comes out we’ll send him one.” My fear that DEC was effectively serving its customers was completely gone. DEC would not pose a real threat early in our company history.
We decided to take the offensive with HP. We offered HP’s Minicomputer Division a catalog for their customers, developed and managed by Inmac but branded with the HP name. Negotiations dragged on and on and finally led to nothing. At the end of the process, we had the two years without major competition, and we had established our position in the market. God had answered our prayer.
A year after starting Inmac, I became concerned that it would adhere to biblical principles. “How can I make it a Christian company?” I asked a pastor.
In his wisdom, he replied that there is no such thing as a Christian company. “Only people are Christians,” he stated. “But believers can use their businesses as opportunities to make Christ known.” He was right. By word and by deed, we can make Christ known through our businesses.
Christ can be made known by word in many ways. We acknowledged and thanked God for His blessings in prayers at company banquets, lunches and meetings. After asking prospective employees what motivated them, I would then take the opportunity to share with them what motivates me. I also issued an open invitation for employees to come to me with concerns. Quite often, the concerns would be personal ones. After hearing each story and problem, I would ask if they would mind me praying for their concerns. Nobody ever objected to my offer. In fact, many offered heartfelt thanks, and I even witnessed tears from strong men who were deeply touched that someone cared enough to pray with them.
In Inmac’s lobby, I placed spiritual and Bible tracts. An accompanying letter outlined my personal faith and how that affected the way people were treated and business was conducted at Inmac:
ABOUT THESE PAMPHLETS
These pamphlets represent the faith of the undersigned. When Inmac was started, I committed my work unto the Lord. This personal commitment has continued to grow over the years. His blessings have been bountiful to us at Inmac.
Faith is a very personal issue with a very personal God. God wants that all should come unto Him; but He does not force the relationship, although He could if He wished. He asks that each one make his own decision about Him, who His Son is, and what He did for us on the cross some 2,000 years ago. He has done a lot for me, and I give Him the glory for all He has done.
How does this strong, personal position benefit you as a vendor, employee, or visitor of Inmac?
1. Every attempt will be made to treat you fairly.
2. In all ways we desire to be an ethical and aboveboard company.
3. Everyone will be treated with respect and consideration.
4. Personal faith is a privilege and a very private matter. Your privilege and privacy in this area are absolutely respected.
5. If for any reason you are not treated according to these principles, such treatment is not intentional and will be redressed.
If anyone has any questions about these pamphlets or our policies, please feel free to pick up the house phone and call me at extension 5003.
Kenneth A. Eldred
One day, an outraged employee approached me to express her objection to the practice of displaying these tracts. She had been taking them from the lobby in protest, she informed me. A discussion ensued in which I explained the role of God in my own life and therefore in the management and direction of the company. Furthermore, I noted that she was free to ignore the tracts. But there was more to this encounter, and soon she revealed deep personal pain in her life. By the end of our conversation, she had prayed to become a follower of Jesus.
Christ can also be made known by deed in the way our business is conducted. Here is an example: In the early days of packaged software, the concept of single-use licensing was not ingrained. It was common to share software, even though the licenses granted the right of use only on a single computer. Inmac employees were no exception, as they were buying software and passing it around the office. God brought this to my attention, and when I asked our IT manager if this was going on, he said yes. I objected that the practice was wrong; it was stealing.
“Everybody does it,” was the response.
“I don’t care if everybody does it,” I stated. “We need to do what is right before God.” I commissioned him to figure out how pervasive the practice of software sharing was and how much it would cost to pay for all the software we were using illegally. Two weeks later, the IT manager came back with the figure: $250,000. That was far more than we could afford.
“God will provide the funds,” I told him, “but we have to replace the illegal software with legitimately purchased copies.” No more software would be shared. I’m not sure how God did it, but we made our numbers that year despite the money we spent on the software. (Maybe it was because of the money we spent on the software?) God taught everyone in the company a valuable lesson.
As Inmac grew significantly, I became concerned that I could no longer monitor its spiritual temperature. How could I make sure we were still operating according to biblical standards? I prayed about this, and God gave me this assurance. “Look, Ken,” He said, “I know you have given me your business. If something is not right, I will bring it to your attention. If I do, then I want you to fix the problem. But if I don’t, don’t go looking for trouble.” I had to trust that God would alert me to sin in the camp, as He had done with regard to the software.
High-level service to the customer continued to be a hallmark of our company. We made sure that we were respecting our customers and their time. As a result, Inmac committed to shipping computer products the same day they were ordered. This level of service was unheard of in the industry, and even thought impossible by some within the company. But we achieved it, and customers loved it. Today, next-day service has become the industry standard.
The biblical tenet “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is central to good service. A customer in England ordered a cabinet, paying the extra £30 to have the shelves assembled by our company. But it was shipped without the shelves installed, and we received an irate phone call. “I have been your customer for years,” she rebuked us. “I had to spend £100 to hire someone to assemble the cabinet shelves that you should have installed! I will never do business with you again!” Our local manager apologized for the mistake and agreed to cover her costs, offering to refund not only the assembly fee but also the additional £100 she had spent remedying our error. She calmed down considerably.
The next day, the woman’s office was abuzz over a bouquet of roses that had arrived for her. Who had sent these beautiful flowers? The attached note read, “I know the time and emotional cost you incurred as a result of our mistake goes well beyond any financial remedies. Please accept these as our gratitude for your years of business.” She immediately picked up the phone and called our local manager, who had signed the card. “In all my years of working with vendors and partners, nobody has ever done anything so considerate and meaningful. Thank you,” she said. “I will commit to buying from Inmac for as long as you’re in business, and I will recommend you to everyone I know.”
Over the years, I learned that business is part of a larger process, a walk with God through one’s life. Inmac first struggled. Then it survived. Then it thrived. At every point along the journey, God had a new lesson to teach me, a new character trait to develop. The company went public in 1987. The day of the initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, God performed an outrageous miracle, the equivalent of making the sun stand still. (That event is described at the beginning of chapter 13.) The venture that was started with $5,000 and a bag of connector parts continued to grow into a company with 1,500 employees in ten countries and annual revenues of $400 million.
The time came when I sensed God directing me away from the company, so I sold Inmac in 1996 to MicroWarehouse. The day of the merger, I met with the new chairman. “You’re taking over a company that’s been very important to me,” I said. “I built it from scratch to around $400 million in revenues. I’m happy for you to have it, but I want to give you something more important.” I wanted him to know that the company he was acquiring was the direct result of much prayer. I shared with him God’s guidance over the years and my personal faith in Jesus.
After our half-hour meeting, he thanked me and proceeded to the office of our president. Looking a bit shell-shocked, he stammered, “Eldred just talked to me about Jesus. Is he serious?”
The president, also a Christian, smiled and replied, “Yes, he is.” There was something far more valuable than Inmac that I wanted to pass along—and it was free!
The sale of Inmac was a major event in my life, not unlike seeing a child you’ve raised for more than twenty years marry and move on to start his own family. At the time I left Inmac, I also felt that God was calling me to leave all corporate boards on which I was sitting. It took a couple years to see how God’s hand was at work and how He intended to bless that step of faith. Unbeknownst to me, while God was shutting one door, He was opening another.
While leading Inmac, I had a business idea that I thought held some promise. However, having developed the concept as an employee of Inmac, I felt it rightfully belonged to the company. Now, many would be tempted to rationalize away this legal point. It may be my idea, but how would the company be able to prove I conceived it while at Inmac? I only knew that God expected me to follow a higher standard of integrity. Simply put, doing otherwise would be stealing from the company. Therefore, when MicroWarehouse bought Inmac, I informed the new management about my business idea. It rightfully belonged to them. “Do you want it?” I asked.
“No, that really falls outside our business plan,” was the response. “You’re free to have it and pursue it if you like.” Thus, with a clear conscience, I was able to explore the concept and ask for God’s blessing on it. I had no idea how amazing His response to that act of obedience would be.
John Mumford is a Christian brother who has been a friend for decades. He was a cofounder of Inmac and the founding director of Crosspoint Venture Partners, a respected Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Together, we developed and molded my idea. The concept was fairly simple, though novel at the time. Many companies have a complex base of suppliers with whom communicating, coordinating, planning and ordering is paper-based, labor-intensive and inefficient. We could greatly simplify and improve that supply chain management process by using the Internet to facilitate procurement. With the additional help of some folks at Benchmark Capital Partners, we cofounded Ariba in 1996.
I was excited about this new venture, but what was I to do regarding God’s leading to no longer sit on company boards? In the end, the answer was clear. “You and John Mumford are both accomplished businessmen and investors in this venture,” Ariba’s newly appointed CEO told me at a meeting. “However, we only have one board seat left. Because John represents a venture capital firm, I’m proposing we offer it to him. I hope there are no hard feelings.” I have to admit I was disappointed in not being asked, but I had no hard feelings. I knew this was confirmation of God’s direction.
Ariba grew, and by mid-1999, we decided to take it public. Our initial hopes were to price the public offering at $8 per share. But the stock market was hot, and as one of the first business-to-business Internet companies, Ariba was able to go public two months later at $23 per share. On opening day, it shot up and closed at $90 per share. The company we had founded three years earlier was now worth $6 billion! Unlike board members and managers, I had no official ties to the company. Therefore, I was not subject to a lockup period during which I was prohibited from selling my stock. I was unaware of the company’s plans and results. It only made sense to diversify my investments. Over the course of the next year, Ariba reached a value of $40 billion, and I was able to divest at very attractive stock prices. Like many Internet companies, Ariba subsequently lost much of its value, but by providentially leading me away from a board position, God had enabled me to sell much of my investment during the most opportune time period.
Around that time, God opened my eyes to the opportunity for business to transform individuals and nations around the globe. In early 1999, a long-time Indian friend approached me with a business start-up idea and asked for my help. The wrinkle: It was to be in India. His idea was to take advantage of the relatively low cost and high quality of labor available in India and the improvements in transpacific telecommunications to establish a call center that would serve customers in the United States. My previous ventures had been located in Silicon Valley, and I didn’t particularly want to go through another start-up. But there was something about this opportunity. God gave me a vision for using this venture to advance His Kingdom. I agreed to help my friend under one condition—that he would give educated and capable young Christians in India the opportunity to work for him. “Absolutely!” he said, and ET was born.
Remembering God’s leading to drop all board positions several years earlier, I was unsure how to respond when my friend subsequently asked me to serve on the board of his new company. I decided that prayer for guidance was the best course of action. One day, I was hosting a visiting missionary, chauffeuring him from place to place. In the process, I was introduced to the pastor of a local church, who said, “I have a word from God for you.” I was startled, yet intrigued. “You’re wrestling with a decision regarding a company,” he continued. “God wants you to know He’s in it, and He wants you to take the role. You’re also involved with another company that will take off like a rocket.” I was astounded. Yes, I was wrestling with a decision regarding ET, and I was also involved with Ariba, but was this really from God? When Ariba exceeded all expectations and took off like a rocket a couple months later, I knew God was directing me to a deeper involvement in ET. I agreed to join the board of directors.
God gave me a vision for using my position of influence at ET to advance His Kingdom in India. Here’s how it would work: We would be intentional about recruiting and hiring qualified Christians. The company would offer attractive wages to its employees. Christians at the company could be equipped and mentored in their faith. They would become salt and light to those with whom they would interact in the marketplace. They would also give to the local church, enabling it to free itself from dependence on Western funds. It was a vision to use a for-profit business to further the Church in India. It was a vision for Kingdom business.
Fiber-optic lines significantly increased the capacity and improved the quality of telecommunications between India and the United States. It was important that ET utilize this technology. The Prabhadevi Exchange in Bombay is the landing point for fiber-optic cables to the United States, so we decided to locate the company in Bombay, and God provided a building only 100 yards from the fiber-optic termination point. As it turns out, Bombay is one of the few cosmopolitan cities in India, and it has a relatively open religious attitude. The first 25 employees were Hindus, Muslims and Christians. By February 2001, ET had a 64-seat call center that featured leading-edge technology. Today, the company has grown to more than a thousand employees.
ET’s call center staff is different from the workforce at other call center units. Almost all are university graduates, and a large majority of them have had formal computer training. True to his word, my friend started to recruit from local Christian schools. These talented Christians proved to be great employees, and the company no longer needs my encouragement to hire more. Several local Christian groups have even helped by prescreening candidates for the company. For hundreds of Indian Christians, ET has provided meaningful jobs in which they can use their gifts. Starting compensation is very generous by local standards, high enough to attract the best and brightest young people. At a salary of $350 to $400 per month, call center staff are able to contribute greatly to the local economy and can even afford to hire outside help, thus contributing even more to the economy and providing the opportunity to demonstrate the gospel to others.
There is an enormous opportunity to provide spiritual training and discipling for the hundreds of Christians at ET. Many have a faith that is more cultural than personal, and their understanding of Scripture is often limited. We watch their faith transform into an experience of following Jesus on a daily basis. The active faith of ET’s hundreds of Christians can have a tremendous impact for the local church.
We have had the opportunity to introduce a Christian-based leadership development program within the company. PowerWalk, a Canadian organization that developed a Christian training course delivered primarily to churches, met with the top ET executives, many of whom are not Christians. Stating that it would remove explicit Christian language and Bible references though keep the Scripture excerpts and biblical concepts, PowerWalk offered a course for employees on a voluntary basis. It was designed to provide significant business and leadership training to ET’s employees. While the management is Hindu, the company embraced the idea and expressed a desire to have the entire management group go through this Christian-based training course. PowerWalk’s leadership training is fun and interactive and deals heavily with relationships. There was also opportunity to interact with participants in less formal settings outside the classroom and gauge their spiritual interest. Over a weeklong period, 80 or 90 people, a cross-section comprising about 10 percent of the company went through a training session. At the end of the week, it was agreed that this training should be offered to everyone in the company—including spouses.
The PowerWalk course is now a one-day component of the new-staff training program at the company, and a person who reports to the Chief of Human Resources has responsibility for maintaining and promoting it, with the support of a group of pastors. PowerWalk helped to establish a pastoral team of local men and women who are available for follow-on work that emerges from the ET effort. This team of Indian Christians is equipped to conduct in small-group settings an expanded course that includes topics such as marriage and stress management. The team is also available for counseling of ET staff and is committed to planting house churches in the area. “God is opening doors, and people are being challenged and exposed to the gospel,” notes PowerWalk’s Dan Sinclair.
A group of ET employees has committed to regular meetings in which they seek to develop their faith, following a ten-part curriculum on how to grow strong in the marketplace. They’re also praying for the company and for the spiritual condition of those whom they encounter on a daily basis. When ET experienced an economic downturn that threatened the company, Christian employees got together to pray for their business. The company recovered, and many recognized the source of the turnaround.
God gave me a vision for using business to advance His Church and provide economic blessing in India, but was that all? Were there other Christians pursuing similar objectives through for-profit businesses? Was I unknowingly part of a larger movement of God? Was the model used at ET the only template for business as missions? What different approaches were Kingdom-focused believers using to effect economic and spiritual transformation, and where did these approaches work?
The questions were numerous, and I started to investigate.