Diary of an entrepreneur

24 June 2013

Misunderstandings, interruptions, competition, disappointments — and yet this engineer has found a key. Putting the Gospel into practice changes daily life — even in the workplace.

Early Monday morning

I left work early last Friday, so when I returned to the office on Monday I faced a long “to do” list. I threw myself into the tasks and marked myself on our company computer tracking “in/out” box (IOB) system as “in” but “DND” (Do Not Disturb). Nevertheless, after a few minutes, there was a knock at the door, and one staff member entered and said “Good morning, how was your weekend?” My first thought was, “Hey, didn’t you see the DND in the IOB?” My second thought was “I don’t have time for this, I hope she hurries up.” Then, I remembered, “This is my neighbour. This is Jesus.” We spoke about our weekends and she also talked about her young son who had been sick which caused her to miss work. In a short time, she asked about the work load this week and how she could help. When she left my office, she took two piles of my “to do list” — for me a sure sign of God’s Providence.


This week I was in meetings with several people, including those I would call “competitors” — people who do the same kind of work we do. I was asked to critique these competitors’ work product, and provide opinions about the direction of important projects. This can be a very delicate thing, especially when the competitors are in the same room! A real human temptation is always to present yourself very well, and show off your knowledge of the subject, letting your ego take over.

Before each meeting, I said a little prayer, “You, Lord, are everything. I am nothing.” I listened carefully to everyone, trying to understand all sides. When I finally spoke, I was able to highlight the positive things about my competitors work, their organization of scientific data, and their presentation. After that, I offered some suggestions that enhanced their work. By the end, we agreed about the direction of different situations. Later, these competitors called to thank me for the way I handled the meeting: “We really felt your support and we hope to see you again in other situations.”

Office cleaning

During the last busy weeks the office became, as my mother would say, like a pig-sty. Our kitchen was piled with dishes and left-over containers. No one was making a move to do anything about it. During lunch one day, when everyone was out, I went into the kitchen and did all the dishes, scrubbed the counters and sinks, swept the floor, emptied the refrigerator of “bad containers,” took out the trash.

As people came back from lunch, there was murmuring about, “Who had cleaned the kitchen?” After a while it became apparent that I had done it without saying anything. Later that same day, someone cleaned up the report production room. Some began to clean their own work areas. Everyone noticed that the atmosphere of the office had changed … stress levels seemed lower, people were getting along better, and a certain peace was present among everyone.

A new kind of business dinner

On a recent business trip overseas, my American colleague and I were invited to a weekend dinner with our client representative, his wife and four-year-old daughter. Conversation soon turned to business, culture, politics, sports. The longer the conversation went on, the less our client’s wife and daughter were involved. I could see that the mother struggled to occupy her daughter. I had also learned that the couple both worked full time, and had given up their free weekend night to take us out. 

I began to think about what God wanted from me in that moment and remembered the Word of Life for the month: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new!” (Is 43:18 19). I knew that it was time to stop the “old” way of doing business, and start something “new.” I asked the little girl if she knew how to draw any pictures. Soon, we were making all kinds of smiley faces and letters around our plates on the paper tablecloth. I learned all about her: what she liked, her favourite animals. I showed her a magic trick. “Do it again!” she pleaded. Soon she learned the disappearing spoon trick and showed her mom, and even her dad.

As we continued our fun, her mother relaxed and joined the conversation with her husband and my friend. The atmosphere soon changed from a business dinner to a family dinner.” At the end of the evening, the little girl shook my hand and asked when we would see each other again. I felt as if I had made a friend for life.

In the taxi I wondered what my client thought about my supposed lack of attention to him during the dinner, and whether it seemed unprofessional. However, the following morning at his office, the first thing he said was, “You won’t believe it. The only thing my daughter talked about all weekend was you. Thank you for the wonderful time, we’ll have to do it again.” At that moment I more fully understood the revolutionary power of the Gospel, and how this new way of doing business transforms everyone.

Beyond winning

Yesterday I had a meeting with an attorney who represented someone whose property one of my clients had contaminated. Instead of using his attorney to meet with their attorney, my client wanted me (an environmental engineer) to negotiate. He knew that I had developed a positive relationship with the property owners. As it happened, the opposing attorney and I also knew each other. He remembered that my company donates a portion of its profits to the poor. This meeting could have been a very stressful one: how much does my client owe his client for damages? Who would win the negotiations?

Before he left, the attorney shared that he had not visited this building since he ate lunch there with his late father. The attorney’s eyes welled up. “One week later on a hunting trip to Colorado, he was lost in a freak snowstorm. I guess you never know what life will present you with,” he said. I shared an experience about having lunch at the same restaurant a few years ago with an old friend that came to town for her dad’s funeral. He had been my godfather and was very close to me. That lunch had represented a new time in my life as well. In the midst of the busy work day, we experienced a moment of communion that went beyond business as usual.

By John Mundell

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