April 23, 2008

Running the Family Business

2008 1512 page14 cap SINGLE TEAR TRICKLED DOWN HIS brown, weathered face. His children, Conrad and Libby, were at it again. When they weren’t arguing, they were silently, hurtfully, ignoring each other. The family business was suffering from the children’s inability to work together. All of Conrad and Libby’s energy was spent defending their opinions about how the company should be run, rather than running the company.
Different Philosophies
Conrad loved his father’s business, and he didn’t want anything to interfere with the principles and traditions on which it was founded. He didn’t want any of the original practices of the company to be lost when they clashed with modern technology or culture. Conrad proudly felt he held the keys to the success of his father’s business. And those keys were hung on the ring of tradition and policies.
For example, Conrad felt employees needed a dress code. He also wanted the factory to be quiet and reserved. The main problem was not Conrad’s opinions, but his belief that he was closest to his father because of them. He believed he upheld the principles of his father’s business and therefore his opinions were of more value than his sister’s.
2008 1512 page14Libby also loved the family business. She spent a lot of time talking with customers and listening to their needs. She felt the company would succeed best by building relationships with its consumers. She was willing to sacrifice some of the “original practices” of the corporation if they clashed with consumer needs, modern culture, or technology. Libby felt the keys to the success of her father’s business were hung on the ring of caring relationships.
It didn’t matter to Libby what employees wore, as long as they were clean and presentable. She also liked a noisy workplace, because she felt the noise indicated increased interaction and productivity. Libby felt that she was closest to her father because she was upholding the principles of her father’s business—good customer service. Libby felt that her opinions held more value than her brother’s.
Both children spoke freely of their differences with the other employees in their father’s company. Sometimes their comments were punctuated with contradictory comments such as “Conrad is a good man; it’s too bad he doesn’t fully understand the business.” Or “Libby is a kind person; it’s too bad that she is mistaken on how to best run the company.”
If only they could take their eyes off their differences and focus on their common goal—running a successful business—the company might prosper and thousands of customers would be added to their clientele. But because of their differences, both Conrad and Libby lost the purpose and vision behind their father’s business.
One Sad Day
One day their father invited Conrad and Libby to take a ride with him. He hoped that, isolated in the car, they could calmly discuss the best way to run the company. As they bumped along a winding country road, the inevitable arguing began. At one point Conrad shouted to his father to pull the car over to the side of the road. The car stopped. Both Libby and Conrad stepped out of the car. They stood facing each other, the volume of their voices escalating. Neither one could hear their father imploring them to settle down and talk things over reasonably. Both children were completely absorbed in their argument.

Questions for Reflection

1. As you see it, what are the main items of contention among the members of your local congregation? List at least five.

2. What makes it so hard for people of strong principles to hear what other people are saying? What Christian virtues would help defuse potentially explosive situations?

3. Read John 17:20-23. How does the unity Christ prayed for become a reality in your congregation? What specific steps can be taken to achieve it?

According to John 17:20-23, what is the byproduct or result of unity among Christ's follower? How is it revealed?

A railroad track ran parallel to the road, and as they shouted at each other Conrad and Libby drifted closer to the tracks until they actually stood on the wooden ties. Neither one realized the danger they were in; both were too absorbed in the argument.

A faint whistle sounded in the distance and the red lights on the railroad crossing began to blink on and off. The father raised his voice to warn his children, but Conrad and Libby could not hear him. They never could hear him when they were arguing like this. The crossing gates came down and still the children argued on.
The father made a split-second decision and stepped between his battling children, who were oblivious to the danger they were in. Raising one arm, the father pushed Conrad out of the path of the oncoming train. With his other arm he pushed Libby from the tracks. The train’s wheels squealed and hissed as the engineer desperately applied the brakes.
It was too late. The train was unable to stop before it struck and bulldozed the father, knocking him off his feet.
The siblings stared in horror at the broken, lifeless body of their father sprawled across the wooden railroad ties, arms outstretched. Suddenly aware of the consequences of their foolishness, Conrad and Libby—silent, unable to argue or even to speak—lifted the beaten body of their father from the railway ties. Each knew they were responsible for their father’s death. In an instant their lives had been forever changed. Their great and vital differences paled in comparison to their father’s sacrificial love for them.
Later, in the Boardroom
Not long afterward an issue arose concerning the type of music played over the intercom in the company’s factories. Conrad believed that quiet, reflective music would help the employees focus on what they were doing. Libby thought lively music caused the employees’ creativity to increase. Conrad and Libby found themselves on opposite sides of the track again.
However, this time it was different. They chose to listen to what each other said. Their voices did not escalate; Conrad and Libby talked through their differences.
For the first time, Conrad and Libby found a compromise that they could agree on. The compromise didn’t sacrifice any of the principles in the company handbook, but it did provide an opportunity for their employees to see that the leaders in the business were willing to work together and respect each other.
Conrad and Libby no longer tried to sway their employees’ loyalties by whispering and talking about each other. Instead they talked more about their father’s business and the need to stay focused on the principles on which their father had founded it—respect, kindness, loyalty, obedience, love. To Conrad and Libby’s surprise the company began to grow and grow and grow.
Carolyn Macomber is a doctoral candidate at Andrews University. She has worked as an elementary teacher, youth director, and youth pastor.