Keep the faith

Some family businesses report connection between faith and success

There is an old saying, “The family that prays together stays together.” But is it true? 

“The factor that enables family businesses to rise to the top is trust,” Henry Hutcheson, a family business advisor and author of “Dirty Little Secrets of Family Business,” told Forbes in 2014. While this might be true, how is that trust built? Research indicates it is faith; faith in a higher power, greater than oneself. And which specific faith does not seem to matter, as Christian, Jewish and Muslim family business owners all report the same thing. Further, outsiders and customers also report they trust family businesses far more than non-family businesses.

Locally, I asked several owners of successful family businesses rooted in faith what makes their business different.

Jeff Horwath of Jeff Horwath Family Builders Inc. said, “First, I don’t worry about it financially, since it’s God’s company, not mine. A little effort, plus God, equals endless potential.”

So, how does this translate into the company’s work?

“We have a small Christian fish symbol in much of our advertising, because we’re happy to have people know that Jesus Christ is important to us,” Horwath said.

Another local business owner who is not shy about his faith is Vince Schmidt of Lakeland Supply Inc. As Schmidt puts it, “God, family, Lakeland.” He continues, “God is faithful, and I feel if we conduct ourselves in a manner that honors Him, with some hard work and smart decisions, all will be good.” 

With the announcement recently that Lakeland Supply will be expanding, it would appear God is shining down on the company. 

But, can the God card be played too much? Can the faith issue be talked about so much that it comes across as being fake or forced?

Well, the beauty of capitalism is we can take our business elsewhere if we don’t like the message being given. Evidence suggests, however, that more are drawn to a company that proclaims its faith, rather than runs from it.

But the real issue might not be in the customer exchange, but in the internal dynamic of how a family works together. If trust is central to a successful firm, it is much easier to have trust when all members believe in the same thing…in this case, God.

Walking into the Lakeland Supply facility, visitors are greeted by small crosses in a bowl in the waiting area, in a place reserved, at most firms, for candy. The cross accompanies a small saying, and the guest I was visiting with that day placed both in his pocket. Message served. No, we did not pray before the meeting, but that would not be foreign as I have seen that done in other businesses. 

What is clear for both Horwath and Schmidt is they are unapologetic and unashamed about their faith commitment. It is central to their business’ core and that message is passed along to family and others. Lakeland’s mission statement, for example, includes: “leaving all we meet better than they were before.”

From Chicago-based public relations firm Edelman comes a barometer that actually demonstrates this further. CEO Richard Edelman, in a talk about leading a Jewish family business, said “Consider the results of the (2014) Edelman Trust Barometer: 84 percent of people believe that business can make a profit while also delivering value to society.”

The word “value” in his quote can be taken two ways, as in providing value to the customer and promoting values that elevate society.

So while evidence suggests active and robust faith leads to better business, the reality in the pew, temple or mosque paints a very different picture. While 40 percent of individuals self-report regular faith adherence, further studies indicate the truth is closer to 20 percent. People have a tendency to over-report socially positive activities, such as church attendance, and under-report less socially accepted behaviors, such as drinking – unless in Wisconsin, where this habit is reported quite proudly. 

But the evidence is clear: While businesses, and especially family businesses, report a connection between faith and business success, society as a whole seems to be turning away from active faith participation.

Would it not be ironic if business led a renaissance return to faith at a time when our world needs faith the most?

David Borst, Ed.D., is executive director and chief operating officer of the Family Business Legacy Institute, a regional resource hub for family business. He can be reached at davidb@fbli-usa.com.

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David Borst
Dr. Borst is the retired Dean of Business at Concordia University. He started up five businesses under borstthebrand.com and is COO of the Family Business Legacy Institute. He can be heard every Saturday morning as Dr. Dave at 6:20am on WTMJ radio with the FBLI show- "All Business". Dr. Borst is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and blogger of a variety of topics from religion to politics or any of the topics you are not supposed to discuss.